Vulnerable adults get more protection
Vulnerable adults would receive more protection from financial exploitation, abuse and neglect, under bills introduced last month by State Sen. Mee Moua, DFL- St. Paul, and Rep. Debra Hillstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center.
The bills (SF 758 and HF 8181) are meant to protect Minnesotans, as well as adults with disabilities. The bills would streamline the state’s ability to identify and investigate such cases. The two state lawmakers want their bills to update the Vulnerable Adults Act, which was passed back in 1980.
If adopted into law, financial institutions would face more requirements to report suspected cases of financial exploitation. There would be expansion in the ability to bring criminal charges for exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and to coordinate efforts between law enforcement, prosecutors and social services agencies.
The bill also would create a statewide hotline for reporting such cases. One complaint about the current reporting system is that it is confusing. Not only does the bill target abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, it also would improve and coordinate the response should a vulnerable adult go missing.
The bill had not had any hearings when Access Press went to press. Last year Minnesota had more than 20,000 cases of abuse of vulnerable adults reported. Some of the abuse and financial exploitation cases have involved family members stealing from older or disabled relatives.
Early voting could be easier
Early voting could become easier for Minnesotans under proposals being considered by the 2009 Minnesota Legislature.
A number of election officials from around the state and voter advocacy groups have lobbied for changes to state law to make early voting easier. Currently Minnesota allows absentee voting if a voter is going to be absent from his or her precinct or if health issues make it difficult to vote on Election Day. Last year some disability groups promoted absentee voting for persons with disabilities, as a way to avoid long lines anticipated for the presidential election.
Common Cause Minnesota is one of the groups promoting expanded early voting, as well as changes to the voter registration process and improved election judge training. Suggestions on improving voter training included suggestions that election judges be better trained to assist elderly and disabled voters. Last month the group released a 14-page report outlining proposed changes. The report recommended that the state adopt a “No Excuse Mail-in Voting,” to allow any individual to vote by mail without the need for an excuse. Under current law, voters requesting an absentee ballot must choose one of four reasons for voting early. The new provision would increase participation and make it easier for absentee voters, the report said.
Another suggestion made by Common Cause was that Minnesota follow the lead of 32 other states and allow early voting. That would shorten lines at the polls on Election Day by allowing voters to cast ballots when it’s convenient for them. Election officials from around the state have also testified in favor of expanded early voting.
State Services for the Blind faces cuts
Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) will be taking its share of cuts in the state budget over the next two years. The agency, which provides a number of services including the popular Radio Talking Book, recently announced proposal budget cuts.
“Over the next two years, the governor’s budget cuts $139,000 out of SSB each year. There are three areas of SSB where the proposed cut would likely fall: services to children, services to seniors, and the funding of a legal advocate service SSB has long partnered with the United Blind of Minnesota to provide,” the agency stated in a press release.
“The amount of the budget shortfall is very large, and the fears were that the proposed cut would include a much larger cut from SSB. In fact, the last time that SSB’s funding was at stake, in 2002, state agencies were asked to take a 10% cut across the board. A number of SSB employees were laid off at that time. It does not seem like that request is going to be repeated this time.”
One bright spot is that at this time none of the cuts would affect the Radio Talking Book Network. The service, which has its calendar featured in Access Press each month, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Medical marijuana advances
Supporters of legalization of medical marijuana have seen their efforts move ahead during the 2009 Minnesota Legislature. Last month the bill passed its first committee, the Minnesota House’s Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee. When Access Press went to press, the bill had also cleared one Senate committee.
Supporters hailed the votes but admit they continue to face staunch opposition from the law enforcement community, the Minnesota Family Council and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Thirteen states already allow marijuana to be used legally for medical purposes. Those state laws are in conflict with federal law outlawing marijuana. But President Barak Obama’s administration has indicated that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws related to medical marijuana. Advocates hope the new president’s views will help make medical marijuana legal.
Minnesota advocates are focusing on stories of those who used marijuana to relieve the pain of terminal illnesses including cancer, HIV-AIDS, spinal cord injuries and other debilitating conditions. Persons whose pain is relieved by marijuana and family members of those who used marijuana during the end stage of life have been among those testifying at the capitol. One speaker showed a committee a large trash bag, filled with painkillers that he said didn’t work.