Self-advocates and disability community groups are already immersed in the work of the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. Participation will again take some planning ahead as the session, which began March 8, marks the third and final year of major capitol renovations.
It will again be a session with no rallies or events in the rotunda as that area and most of the rest of the capitol remain closed. Groups will either hold rallies off-site, go outdoors to the lower mall area or shelves their signs and banners until 2017.
As it did in 2015, the annual “Faces of Disability” event will again feature smaller displays near legislators’ offices instead of the large display staged in previous years. It is set for March 14-18. “Getting around is going to be a challenge,” said Margot Imdieke Cross, accessibility specialist for the Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD).
Staff from the Department of Administration urge that everyone plan ahead before attending a committee meeting or hearing. Curtis Yoakum, assistant commissioner for communications and planning and Wayne Waslaski, senior director for real estate and construction services, said that allowing more time to get to hearings and floor sessions is crucial.
“The entire capitol building is still a construction zone,” said Yoakum. The building will only be open when the House is in session, in limited areas.
The $309.674 million capitol repair and restoration project began in 2013 and ends next year. It is the largest and most extensive project done at the capitol since it was built in 1905.
The House will hold its sessions in its capitol chambers. With a capacity of 258 people, much of that space will be occupied by the 134 House members and their staff. There will also be limited public viewing space, said Waslaski.
Anyone wanting a pass to view a House floor session can get one at the State Office Building Room 10. Passes will be issued on a first come, first served basis. Staff will hold two wheelchair-accessible spaces until five minutes before session, then those seats will go to the general public.
“So if you have a big bill coming up and your House member needs you there, plan ahead,” Imdieke Cross said.
Senate floor sessions will be in a first floor hearing room in the new Senate Building. That space is also limited, so an adjacent hearing room will be available for those wanting to watch floor sessions. Senators will be able to meet with constituents outside of the chambers, which won’t be possible during House sessions.
In 2017, the Senate will move back to its capitol chambers.
Disability community leaders also urge everyone to plan ahead before visiting lawmakers this session and to check ahead of time before visiting. The opening of the new Senate Building means new offices for many lawmakers. Changes have also been made in the State Office Building offices so that several lawmakers may be in different quarters.
Visitors should also be aware that while tunnels are open, it still may take longer to get from one place to another.
Hearings will be split between the two buildings. With so much construction at the capitol last year the State Office Building hearing rooms were almost constantly busy. That space also had to be pressed into service for a special session. While there may be less congestion, keep in mind there will be a distance factor for those who have to attend multiple hearings in a single day.
“I just wheeled it (recently) from the Senate Building to the State Office Building, and it was whoa, that’s a long trek,” Imdieke Cross said. People who may not always need a mobility device, such as a scooter or wheelchair, may want to plan to bring those devices during the legislative session.
Parking for people with disability placards has also changed. The Minnesota Senate Building, at Sherburne Avenue and Capitol Boulevard, has 20 public disability parking space. It is north of the capitol.
The Centennial Parking Ramp, orange level, has two public disability spaces. It is at Cedar Street and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Ramp F, on Rice Street south of Aurora Avenue, has 10 public disability parking spaces. There are also four disability parking spaces on John Ireland Boulevard to serve the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Building.
Familiar places to park are missing. Public accessible parking is no longer offered on Aurora Avenue in front of the capitol. Lot D on Rice Street no longer offers accessible public parking. Lot N is also closed. The Senate Office Building stands where Lot B was.
By the Metro Mobility drop-off near the capitol, there will be an accessible portable toilet structure. Portable toilets will also be beneath the capitol porte cochere. It may be best to use restrooms elsewhere before heading to the capitol itself. Some events won’t be affected by the ongoing construction.
The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) Tuesdays at the Capitol began March 8, and will continue at the Minnesota Department of Transportation Building cafeteria. The weekly events start at 10 a.m. The weekly noon Friday update sessions will be held at State Office Building, Room 500. Check with MNCCD before attending as the sessions are subject to change.
MSCOD will post access updates on its website. Click on the capitol renovation tab at the top of the home page. That tab also provides useful maps. Go to www.disability.state.mn.us/ Updates are also posted here. The Department of Administration urges the public to call 651-201-2300 if there are questions.