When the 2020 session of the Minnesota Legislature starts February 11, the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) will be ready. A wide range of issues, from proposed changes in rules for personal care attendants (PCAs) to public facilities access, are on the group’s legislative agenda.
More than two dozen MNCCD members approved the agenda December 4. Board Chairperson Marnie Falk of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare said additional legislative items can be added as the session start nears and during the session itself. One item that could be added later is the Homes for All effort, to meet a wide range of housing needs statewide.
MNCCD met much success in 2019, with 11 of 18 policy priorities meeting a favorable response from state lawmakers. That includes PCA rate reform, Mitchell’s law, changes to the spend-down and a reduction in Medical Assistance TEFRA fees.
Attorney Bill Amberg praised the success, noting that in his 20 years’ work at the capitol, he’s never seen anything have the same kind of impact that MNCCD’s Tuesdays at the Capitol has.
“There’s just nothing like it,” he said. “Nobody hits 11 out of 18.”
What’s even more remarkable is how well MNCCD has done, in a time of transition. Membership had dropped, as some disability advocate groups have merged and others have struck out on their own at the capitol. That in turn affected resources available for staffing.
After having an executive director post for a time, MNCCD operated with part-time staff and contact lobbyists last year. Attorneys Amberg and Mitch Berggren are the contract attorneys this session. Staffer Bridget Carter moves to full-time status in early 2020.
MNCCD continues to grow and reinvent itself. The consortium is working on bylaws changes, to restructure how its issues-focused working groups, committees and board can better work together. Some working groups, such as those focused on housing, staffing and transportation, have been more robust than others. The bylaws changes will go out for an e-vote in the near future. MNCCD is also looking at adding individual memberships, as well as its organizational memberships.
For 2020, MNCCD has three sets of legislative priorities, said Maren Hulden of the Disability Law Center. The first group is issues MNCCD takes the lead on or works with partners as high priorities. The second issues are those MNCCD partners with another group or groups on and helps as needed. The third are issues MNCCD signs onto as a supporter, but doesn’t have as much direct involvement with.
One of the top priorities is PCA driving reform, so that driving can be considered as an activity of daily living. This is especially needed during the current transportation crisis.
A second key area is guardianship law language changes, to modernize what is currently not person-centered language and to reflect the move toward people with disabilities enjoying more independence and ability to make decisions.
Also ranked as high priorities for 2020 are efforts toward more inclusive childcare and transition to full competitive and integrated employment. The childcare issue has grown in importance as childcare centers lack resources to serve children with disabilities. Employment was a focus in 2019 but fell short.
MNCCD will partner with other groups on several other issues. One is to include access to dental care through MA programs. The need to find dentists who will accept patients in the program is growing and in many places the situation is dire as people cannot access dental care. Dental Access Partners are leading on this issue.
Minnesota Council on Disability is leading the charge on bonding for inclusion, to have more state facilities become accessible. The council has had success as it sought funding for access improvements at state parks. Work with the Department of Natural Resources, which has been successful in the past, would be expanded to the Department of Administration.
Despite recent renovations at the capitol itself, one area cited for access improvements is the capitol complex tunnel system. MNCCD members joked how the tunnel inclines almost have people crawling on their hands and knees.
Another partnership issue is to allow more accessibility in voting. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office wants to allow voters to be able to use their own assistive technology and not have to rely on third-party assistance to cast ballots.
Continued efforts for PCA rate reform, enhanced autism-focused training for first responders and the Best Life Alliance’s continued work on the waiver system are other partnership issues, as is work to establish tax credits for direct support providers.
One effort targets the transportation services Uber and Lyft, and would provide financial incentives for drivers to what wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Drivers use their own vehicles, which typically aren’t accessible. This is especially needed as traditional taxi companies go out of business.
MNCCD is signing onto several other pieces of legislation. These include changes to the home care rate network, pooled trust changes, improved access to college programs through reciprocity, reform of the health care records act and prior authorization reform. All of these issues have at least one leader, or a coalition of supporters.