The ‘unsession’ - Legislature asked to address many complex issues

The Minnesota Legislature’s “unsession” starts February 25. While the session has been touted by Gov. Mark Dayton as one where outdated laws, language and policies are swept off of the books, plenty of other bills are already in the hopper. That includes almost 300 House bills alone.

Disability advocacy groups already have dozens of issues to rally around, including anti-poverty efforts, anti-bullying measures in schools and the campaign for a 5% rate increase for people with disabilities and older adults.. Groups will kick off the session 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Friday, February 14 at the I “Heart” Advocacy gathering at Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota, 533 N. Fairview Ave, St. Paul. To register, call 952-818-8719 or email Jo@mnccd.org

MN-CCD’s Tuesdays at the Capitol will also get underway, as well as the Friday update sessions. Check www.mnccd.org for locations. One of the first events is Tuesday, March 18, Disability Day at the Capitol, which starts with registration at 10 a.m. and a rally at 11 a.m. in the capitol rotunda. Advocating Change Together, Direct Service Professionals of Minnesota, Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Minnesota State Council on Disability, People First of Minnesota, Self-Advocates Minnesota, The Arc Minnesota and Youth Legacy Foundation are sponsors.

The event is free but sponsors want everyone to register, by contacting Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance at 1-800-669-6442 or info@braininjurymn.org  The shorter session, combined with an election year and high-profile issues ranging from the bonding bill to the drive to raise the minimum wage, could make for an interesting time. MN-CCD and the Minnesota State Council on Disability are working to draw attention to issues through a new “Wednesday Wonk” post on the MN-CCD blog. The council will post weekly updates about a public policy issue that is timely and relevant to the disability community.

Two issues MN-CCD will be closely involved in are the 5 Percent Campaign, which aims for a 5% rate increase for Home and Community-Based Services that support people with disabilities and older adults.”  The latter effort is meant to address laws and policies that unfairly impoverish people with disabilities. The 5% Campaign, which will be the focus of a capitol rally March 4, already has many House and Senate supporters.

Another effort that many groups have joined would change the state’s bullying prevention law. Many groups, including PACER Center and The Arc Minnesota, are involved. Advocates note that current state anti-bullying law is only 37 words long. The proposed Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools

Act would help protect Minnesota students from intentional negative and aggressive behavior, as well as provide resources for schools, parents and students. Anyone interesting in the effort can visit www.PACER.org

Another effort, which the Arc Minnesota is involved in, is to pass measures to improve quality care and support of House File 1897. This bill will fund state efforts to help ensure that the services that support people with disabilities are of the highest possible quality and are meeting individual needs.

Recent instances of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities have pushed this need to the forefront. State licensing of disability services may ensure those programs comply with minimal standards, but it does not ensure that the programs are meeting the needs of those they serve. Better systems of ensuring quality will help determine if services are using public funding as effectively as possible.

The state has had a quality council since 2011 and has charged that group with improving the state’s system for ensuring that disability services are the highest possible quality. The council made several recommendations for improvements almost a year ago. The push is on to get those measures funded and implemented. Many groups have their own legislative agendas, covering everything from mental health, to transportation. Those were covered in detail at the MNSCOD legislative forum January 27.

MNCCD, The Arc Minnesota, MNSCOD and PACER Center supplied information used in this article.

 

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