Session Ends: No Deal in Sight

For the ninth time since 1995, state legislators must go into a special session due to the inability to reach […]

For the ninth time since 1995, state legislators must go into a special session due to the inability to reach agreement on major budgeting issues. The 2005 legislative session officially ended May 23, but wide gaps between House Republicans and Senate DFLers remain on the issues of health care, education and transportation.

“Exactly how people with disabilities are going to fare, we just don’t know yet,” said Joel Ulland, public policy director for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society-Minnesota Chapter and co-chair of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD). “We’re hoping for some significant state investments, but we’ll need to wait until a compromise is reached to see how much we’ve accomplished.”

With a current deficit of $466 million, legislators must pass a balanced state budget by July 1 or face a partial government shutdown. Major sticking points that prevented a timely end to the session still remain, especially in the health care budget. Overall, Senate DFLers insist more revenue is needed. House Republicans have aligned with the governor in saying the state has a spending—not a revenue—problem.

A late May concession by the governor to institute a 75-cent per-pack ‘health user fee’ on cigarettes has been positively received by some lawmakers in both parties, but Senate DFL leaders don’t like the conditions Governor Pawlenty has attached to his acceptance of it.

Any additional revenue would be welcome by advocacy groups seeking to preserve services and programs for Minnesotans with disabilities.

“We just hope the money can be directed toward the health care budget,” Ulland said.

MN-CCD has pursued an aggressive legislative agenda that includes health care, education, and transportation policy changes. Designed to educate lawmakers on the needs of Minnesotans with disabilities and avoid cuts to existing programs, many of the coalition recommendations could become law.

One major advance that both House and Senate leaders have agreed upon would allow those with disabilities living in nursing homes to enlist the support of private or nonprofit organizations to help them move out to a more independent living setting. Currently, just a few counties allow for this practice.

Another provision would, upon federal approval, provide those seeking to leave nursing homes with a $3,000 allowance to pay for moving expenses, such as utility set-up, security deposits, or even furniture.

But many positive policy changes are stuck in limbo as legislative leaders haggle with the governor over how big the state budget should be and how much new revenue is required to balance the books. As yet unresolved:

• Lower monthly premiums for parents of children with disabilities in the TEFRA program;

• Lower monthly costs for those in the MA-EPD program who now pay their Medicare Part B premium;

• More money for disability service providers and nursing homes that would be passed on to workers as compensation increases;

• A call for expansion of the Minnesota Disability Health Options program, the state’s voluntary Medicaid managed care program now operating in the metro area;

• Planning groups or studies to address dental access, medical transportation, and case management services;

• A protection of the current Metro Mobility service area;

• A more reasoned approach and uniform state policy for police intervention when dealing with kids with disabilities in an educational setting.

Advocates and lobbyists for people with disabilities are optimistic that a number of these unresolved issues will become law.

“But we need all the help we can get,” said Jeff Bangsberg, governmental affairs director for the Minnesota Home Care Association. “Calling your legislators and asking them to support programs and services for Minnesotans with disabilities is always a good idea.”

More information on state legislative issues can be found at www.leg.state.mn.us, or call 651-296-0504, or 1-800-657-3550.