State lawmakers hurry to earmark $550,000

A requirement in state law that could divert $550,000 dollars away from programs for people with disabilities is being contested by state lawmakers. A Senate committee began scrutiny of the funds in January with the goal of making sure the dollars aren’t allocated to the state’s general fund and placed elsewhere in the state budget.

That requirement has dismayed some state lawmakers. Senators John Hoffman (DFL – Champlain) and Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) are working on legislation to have the $550,000 go to DHS for disability-related needs. A bill introduced this session would give DHS the authority to move the money into the Disability Services division.

But there isn’t much time. If the bill isn’t passed by mid-February the funds cannot be earmarked for disability services and go to the general fund.

The funds are left over from the Jensen court case, a decade-year legal battle that resulted in a $3 million settlement. The federal court case centered on treatment of young people at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options facility in Cambridge. The case, which became a class action, changed the way people with disabilities are treated in state institutions. The case brought renewed scrutiny of and changes in practices such as seclusion and restraint as ways to address behavioral issues.

After years of oversight, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank in October 2020 decided that the court no longer needed to have purview in the Jensen case.

The court case also resulted in a jump-start for Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan. The plan outlines how people with disabilities participate in their home communities. Work on the plan had stalled until then.

There is about $550,000 in Jensen case settlement money remaining. In December 2020 U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ordered that the money be turned over to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).