The 2017 Minnesota Legislaturegaveled into session January 3, launching one of the most potentially complex and contentious sessions in recent years. State lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton must reach agreement on a two-year budget for the state, or face a crippling government shutdown like the one in 2011.
All side must also reach agreement on what to do with what has grown into a $1.4 billion budget surplus. Minnesotans with disabilities and their allies are urging state lawmakers to consider spending on programs including Medical Assistance spend-down reform and wage increases to address the growing caregiver shortage. Calls are also being made for physical improvements at state hospitals and schools for children and youth with disabilities, as no bonding bill was passed in 2016.
With Republican control of the House and Senate, and DFLer Dayton, expect a number of disagreements. Dayton began releasing his budgets January 4, with the first promising to reduce health insurance premiums by 25 percent for 125,000 Minnesotans.
As Access Press went to press, no committee and bill deadlines had been announced. Many committees have had changes in leadership, so how that plays out remains to be seen.
Disability advocacy groups and service organizations have already announced events. Check individual websites often as schedules can be subject to change.
The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) launched its Tuesdays at the Capitol series with a training session on opening day. The Tuesday sessions are held in the Transportation Building cafeteria. The second
session planned January 10 was a press conference.
Different groups host and lead the gatherings on Tuesdays, urging their constituents or clients to attend. The events are open to all. It’s a good time to get involved with an organization and to learn how to contact legislators and raise issues. Check mnccd.org and its the calendar for times and other details.
Autism Recovery Foundation and the autism committee are the hosts January 17, with Lifeworks on tap January 24 and Arc Minnesota January 31. Advocating Change Together is February 7. Courage Kenny is February 21.
Tuesday, February 28 is Disability Matters Day at the Capitol, with a rally at 11:30 a.m. in the capitol rotunda. Mary T. Inc. is the lead group that day.
March starts with Epilepsy Foundation March 7, followed by the big ARRM/MOHR Rally March 14. The armory has been too large to be held in the capitol rotunda, so it is typically at the National Guard Armory. Goodwill/Easter Seals will be on hand March 28.
April starts with Metropolitan Center for Independent Living April 4, followed by a possible spring break April 11 and Lutheran Social Services April 18. Living Well Disability Services is set for April 25.
Hammer is set for May 2, with Opportunity Partners May 9.
As of Access Press deadline, February 14 and March 21 and were still open. The consortium also hosts a Friday membership meeting most weeks during session, noon-1 p.m. in Room 500 South in the State Office Building.
Other organizations are also offering assistance. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota hosts How to be an Effective Mental Health Advocate, 10 a.m. – noon Saturday, January 14 at NAMI Minnesota, 800 Transfer Road, Suite 31, St. Paul. The free training will provide information on how to work with state lawmakers.
Participants need to preregister, by calling 651-645-2948, or visiting namihelps.org.
Many disability advocacy groups and service organizations have their campaigns well underway. The Best Life Alliance, which is working to increase caregiver wages, recently put out a call for caregiver or direct supporter provider stories by legislative district. The alliance hoped to have stories from every Minnesota legislative district by
mid-December. The stories and photos are to be compiled in a document that can be downloaded from the alliance’s web page and also shared on social media, in letters to legislators and in other ways. See the organization’s website and read more about the campaign here.
Want to stay in touch with legislative issues but cannot always get to the capitol? Many groups post regular updates on websites, or send out e-newsletters. The Arc Minnesota Public Policy Network is urging everyone to join, to get regular updates on statewide public policy activities. Information provided can be helpful when planning calls and emails to lawmakers, as well in one-on-one visits.