Preparations for 2023 session take place in face of uncertainty

The clock is ticking toward the start of the 2023 Minnesota Legislature. Disability advocacy organizations and their allies are putting […]

Group rallied at the capitol for Disability Services day wearing tshirts and holding signs

The clock is ticking toward the start of the 2023 Minnesota Legislature. Disability advocacy organizations and their allies are putting the finishing touches on legislative proposals. The session starts January 3 so there isn’t a lot of time left to get bills ready and into the hopper.  

2023 is a budget year so there is much work ahead. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) had its full proposals due October 21, after initial meetings earlier this fall for review. MNCCD will announce its 2023 priorities soon. 

Much focus will likely be on issues around the state’s support staff shortage. “The crisis just continues to get worse, especially in direct care,” said Vicki Gerrits, executive director of Minnesota First Community Solutions. Advocates will be back with an array of  familiar asks, including higher wages, the ability for staff to be compensated for driving time, overtime pay, training and more. Competitive wages continue to be worrisome. 

Preparations for the 2023 have gone on under a cloud of uncertainty. The November 8 election features every state constitutional office on the ballot, from the governor on down. Every state House and Senate seat is also up for grabs. 

As the 2022 session ended, Republicans in the Senate had a 36-31 majority over their DFL counterparts. In the House, DFLers held a 70-64 majority over their Republican colleagues.

But advocates are looking at the most significant legislative changes since 1972. With almost 60 state lawmakers either retiring or seeking other offices, both the House and Senate will look very different come January. Add to the mix the fact that five more state lawmakers lost their primary election bids. 

While it is not typically too difficult to bring back a legislative proposal or proposals from years past, one wrinkle for 2023 is that many bills will likely need no authors or coauthors due to legislators stepping down. Another need is to plan ahead for possible changes in committee structure and membership, as the faces at the capitol change. 

State council survey

The Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD) has already announced its 2023 legislative forum, noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, December 15. The event will be virtual. Learn about the council’s legislative agenda, hear elected officials and their thoughts on disability policy, and learn from citizen advocates about the disability issues that matter most to them. Sign up through the state council web page, at State Disability Council website 

In preparation for the 2023 session, the council worked for two months on a legislative survey. Members of the disability community were surveyed to learn more about the issues that are important to them, with 286 responses. 

Those surveyed were asked to choose issues MCD should work on in the 2023 legislative session; and tell council staff how these issues affected them as members of the disability community. 

Respondents were able to choose more than one issue when asked what MCD should work on during the upcoming session. Fifty percent said human services, with 47 percent in support of efforts on disability and human rights. 

Another 36 percent want to see action on accessible, affordable housing, with 33 percent interested in a focus on home care and personal care attendants. Close behind was health care at 32 percent and employment at 31 percent. 

Health care and health care affordability drew support from 30 percent, with 27 percent expressing interest in accessible transportation issues including disability parking and accessible vehicles. 

K-12 education and special education is a priority for 24 percent, with 23 percent wanting attention to public transportation and 21 percent supporting public accessibility for buildings and building features such as restrooms. 

Accessible state parks is a priority for 18 percent, with 16 percent expressing interest in higher education. COVID-19 is an issue for 14 percent, with entrepreneurship/business ownership access of interest to 7 percent. 

The results will help MCD shape its 2023 public policy agenda and inform discussions with legislators about what matters to Minnesotans with disabilities. 

What was striking were the responses when asked, how do disability issues affect you as members of the community? 

According to MCD, many of the survey responses had a common theme: a lack of community inclusion. Participants said they continued to feel excluded from their communities. And they described  how it remains difficult for people with disabilities to share in areas of this communal life. Barriers to inclusion included inaccessible public accommodations, costly healthcare, few transportation options, confusing social services and affordable accessible housing that is too expensive. 

One participant noted, “Community inclusion is the most important thing for us. Transportation, community-based housing, human services, and advocacy skills to leverage those resources is what it takes to make that inclusion happen.” 

Politics contributed to a sense of frustration, some respondents said. Last year’s legislature was unable to pass policies that would remove barriers to inclusion and bring people together. 

Here are a few more responses: 

“Public accessibility is lacking for sensory needs and means I can’t go to a lot of places without stress. Healthcare providers not being understanding of my needs and unaffordable healthcare options means I skip care that I should try to get.” 

 “I am capable of driving now, unknown when does privilege will be no longer be a capability for me. Better more reliable access to transportation. Better more affordable insurance covering more procedures and medical equipment. Affordable housing that is larger than one room living space.” 

“With rising costs of everything, healthcare is hard to afford when you are not working. For me, I am only living off Social Security disability, and that is not much. It would be nice to have affordable housing. Also, make the process with the social services a lot easier. Dealing with social services is like pulling teeth, it is not easy at all.”