Some bills clearing initial hurdles at capitol; others wait

With the first bill deadline in the rearview mirror, Minnesota disability advocates are pushing forward on bills that are still […]

People holding a sign that says: "#LivingWell.org"

With the first bill deadline in the rearview mirror, Minnesota disability advocates are pushing forward on bills that are still viable this session. 

It’s been a mixed bag thus far as some bills didn’t meet a key March 22 deadline. It’s also still a time to tread lightly when it comes to funding requests. The most recent financial forecast indicates improvement since November 2023, with the 2024-25 biennium projected to end with a surplus of $3.715 billion. That is an increase of $1.324 billion compared to previous projections. 

Advocates are being counseled to consider amendments to existing bills if their proposals didn’t meet the March deadline, or to lay groundwork for 2025. 

Direct care staff holding signs at Disability Services Day.

Large rallies 

Rallies have attracted large crowds, with a third large group expected March 27 for Disability Advocacy Day. Mental Health Day on the Hill drew more than 500 people March 7. More than 1,500 packed the rotunda for Disability Services Day March 19. 
Rallies not only provide a show of support for bills, they also provide time for advocates to meet with state lawmakers. 

Hosted by the Minnesota Mental Health Legislative Network, Mental Health Day on the Hill always starts with a policy briefing  before the rotunda rally for speeches from state lawmakers and advocates. This year’s theme was to shine a spotlight on mental health. 

“We are in the midst of a mental health crisis, so we are advocating for funding the treatment and services people with mental illnesses need,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We know that our mental health system cannot meet the needs. People are experiencing long wait times, boarding in the ER, increasing interactions with police, and increasing suicide rates. We need to continue to direct resources to our mental health system.” 

See the rally on Facebook.

Find updates on mental health legislation at Recent Legislative Updates.

Disability Services Day March 19 drew a huge crowd, with some organizations sending 100 or more participants. Led by umbrella organizations ARRM and MOHR, the day was a time to bring forward an array of priorities. 

These include an array of housing regulatory issues, improvements to the disability waiver rate system, providing more employment supports and addressing the state’s critical workforce shortage. One focus is to promote the work of the Best Life Alliance and its calls for improvements for disability supports and services. Another key message is that when it comes to staffing, the work is not done. 

Yet another key message from ARRM and MOHR leadership at the rally was that community members need to make themselves heard, and to continue talking to their state lawmakers about important policy bills.  A unique aspect of this rally was to have service providers and clients from around Minnesota introduce their legislators, who then addressed specific bills. A highlight for the crowd was to hear from Gov. Tim Walz, who called for everyone to build on the many disability service gains from the 2023 session. 

Find the MOHR legislative priorities at mohrmn.org

Find the ARRM legislative priorities at arrm.org 

Moving ahead – or not? 

One key bill Walz signed into law in March is a compromise on school resource officers and use of force. This is seen as resolving disagreements that started after the 2023 session, and resulted in many law enforcement agencies pulling their officers out of schools. 

At issue was use of prone restraint. The new changes allow officers to use the measure but within specific circumstances. School staff are banned from doing so. Improved training and creation of a model policy are also part of the new law. Law enforcement and community groups are expected to weigh in policy development. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, or POST Board, will adopt the final version of the model policy and training protocol. 

Other bills are still in the hopper or waiting in the wings. One flash point has been efforts on subminimum wage, which as of late March had stalled in the Senate. The bill has drawn a sharply divided reaction, with advocates and labor unions calling it an equity measure. Foes contend it will take away opportunities for some people with disabilities. 

For other updates on bills, check with specific advocacy organizations on their bills. One of the most comprehensive lists is on Minnesota Council on Disability’s website, at Bill Tracker for Disability-related Legislation

Budget, targets out 

The Walz administration released a one-page supplemental budget proposal as this issue of the paper went to press. The House and Senate released budget targets. 
These documents determine how much money the various finance committees have to allocate for the 2024-25 fiscal year and the following year. 

It’s a big change from the $72 billion state budget signed almost a year ago. The current $226 million budget proposal is focused on far fewer priorities, which Walz described as providing safe communities, clean drinking water and support for children and families. 

A big focus is the crisis facing rural ambulance services, most of which are run by volunteers. Another is to replace contaminated wells or provide water treatment. A third is for a revamp of the state’s child welfare and social services reporting system. The budget leaves about $2 billion of the state’s anticipated surplus in place. 

Walz also has proposed a $989 million bonding bill.

The budget totals about $447 million over the span of 2024-25. 

The budget and targets don’t leave a lot of room for new spending, which disappoints many advocacy groups. Some departmental targets are for only a few million dollars. 

While spending requests have been pared down, there are still measures with costs  in mental health, personal care, special education and other areas that are pending. 

Editor Jane McClure prepared this issue’s legislative coverage. 

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