Start of 2020 legislative session brings disability issues to forefront

Start of 2020 legislative session brings disability issues to forefront

As the 2020 session of the Minnesota Legislature starts February 11, many issues are in play for people with disabilities. Minnesota’s disability community and its advocacy groups will be keeping an eye on everything from possible changes at the Minnesota Department of Human Services to improved access to jobs, health care and transportation. 

Much groundwork has been laid for work at the capitol. The Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD) and Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) in January held two large pre-session events. Individual organizations have also held smaller training sessions. Many groups have also set their rally days. 

What has given many people hope is that Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have attended pre-session events. At the MCD event, Flanagan said that while it was the first time she and Walz attended such an event, “I want to say to you that it won’t be the last time.” 

Walz and Flanagan have spoken about inclusion at disability community events, as part of their vision for the One Minnesota program. Walz said his intention is to create a barrier-free state for all. He urged people with disabilities to be part of the discussion of issues and to not be treated as afterthoughts. He also spoke for policy changes to be backed up with adequate funding.

One focus for Walz is how compensation must be increased for direct support professionals, so that they can help people live active lives. “It will be a loss to Minnesota if we don’t take advantage of what people with disabilities have to offer.”

Public testimony at MCD’s event gave a snapshot of the many challenges Minnesotans with disabilities face as they seek affordable housing, access to healthcare and needed medications. One repeated concern is the complexity of using waivered services. One theme woven throughout testimony on various issues is that of isolation, caused by lack of support staff, less-than-ideal living situations and in a few cases, inability to have an emotional support animal.

One focus during testimony at the MCD event was on abuse of people with disabilities. One woman describes how she still has PTSD from past abuse at a group home. “I don’t deserve to live like this … there’s no justice for people like me.” 

Another focus was transportation. Some speakers described long delays and detours with Metro Mobility, saying the lack of consistent schedules has caused them to lose jobs and miss out of volunteer opportunities. 

Legislators who spoke at the MCD Legislative Forum on Disability said they will do what they can to support the community this session. “We cannot allow the Minnesota Legislature to continue to balance the budget on the backs of the disability community,” said Rep. Jack Considine, Jr. (DFL-Mankato). “We are in a crisis.” 

Considine spoke of the need to increase caregiver wages, saying the issue of higher wages shouldn’t be a partisan one. “There’s culpability on both sides,” he said. “We’ve kept people in servitude.” 

He described a situation where a 17-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis is living in a nursing home due to a lack of support staff. “That should be an embarrassment for the whole state.” 

Legislators also spoke on the need for public facilities access, including a focus on the MCD push for state parks access. (See related story on page one.) Another focus is on transportation and paratransit improvements. Additional support for paratransit serviced and for continuing to push for self-driving vehicles are issues that will get attention this session. Self-driving or autonomous vehicles could be an answer for Greater Minnesota communities that lack paratransit services. “It’s time to step up on transit and transportation,” said Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Minneapolis). 

Several state lawmakers told those present that they need to be involved with legislative issues this session. “Make sure you express what the most important things to you are,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis). 

Legislative stories in this issue were prepared by Managing Editor Jane McClure.