‘Tis the season to make lists and head to the state capitol

With the 2019 Minnesota Legislature starting its session January 8, Minnesotans with disabilities and their advocacy groups are getting ready. […]

With the 2019 Minnesota Legislature starting its session January 8, Minnesotans with disabilities and their advocacy groups are getting ready. It’ll be a new ball game, with incoming Gov. Tim Walz. a DFL majority in the House taking their seats and new commissioners leading state departments.

Very little got done at the capitol in 2018, with much legislation being wrapped into two omnibus bills. Outgoing Gov. Mark Dayton, who had urged state lawmakers to not pass such large and encompassing measures, vetoed both. That not only stalled a number of programs and initiatives, it also led to months of complications ranging from a seven percent cut to waiver services to an ongoing legal battle over state program to supply incontinence products.

Waiver services, the direct care crisis and worker compensation, special education, state parks access and a wide range of mental health issues are among the concerns thatwill be brought to the capitol. Although many issues that failed to pass in 2018 are likely to make a return appearance, new leadership brings the opportunity for rolling out new programs and initiatives.

The new capitol landscape has been taking shape since the election. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have been touring the state to listen to Minnesota. One factor to watch is the state economic forecast, which was released after deadline for this issue of Access Press.

Twice a year, state budget officials release a forecast Minnesota’s economic outlook. The latest forecast sets the stage for the new administration and the next two years. While there was optimism that the state will have additional money in the new biennium, there is also caution  about what a rising federal budget deficit, higher interest rates and the changing tariff picture will mean.

The February 2018 forecast revealed a projected surplus of $329 million. At the capitol, committee and leadership assignments have been made in the House and Senate. One new committee on the Senate side is a Family Care and Aging Committee that will focus on issues important to families in the 2019-20 biennium. It will take on the work of what is now the Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee.

In the House, Speaker-designate Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) announced the committee structure, chairs, and meeting schedule for the 2019 legislative session. The House will increase from 29 to 34 committees, subcommittees and divisions. Committee leaders have been picked and members will be named soon.

This is the first time the DFL has controlled the House since 2013-2014. According to House Public Information Services, much of the change occurred in the Twin Cities suburbs, especially near and just off the Interstate 494-694 corridor, where DFL candidates beat incumbent Republicans in places like Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Edina, Lakeville, Plymouth, Rosemount, Stillwater and Woodbury.

In late November lawmakers heard a presentation from a national legislative expert to a group of state lawmakers. Brenda Erickson, a program principal in the National Conference of State Legislature’s Legislative Management Program, spoke at the first of two meetings on ways to potentially reform Minnesota’s lawmaking process. The public also testified. Whether the sessions and any changes will result in a less rocky processes remains to be seen.

Getting House and Senate committees’ leadership and membership in place sets the stage for lobbying efforts, which began when organizations and advocacy groups roll out their legislative agendas or goals. Organizations began unveiling agendas during the fall, with the Minnesota Council on Disability (MNCCD) and the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities presenting agendas as this issue of Access Press went to press.

Other organizations and groups have already released their agendas. MOHR’s agenda appears on page 4 of this month’s issue. But the agendas and goals are just the start. Not only do many organizations publish legislative goals or agendas most offer some form of weekly updates and action alerts to sign up for. Many also offer training days before or at the start of the session to prepare advocates for outreach to state lawmakers. Advocates who are just starting their work, or who need a refresher course, often benefit from these sessions.

Most groups also have advocacy days, such as Mental Health Day on the Hill, ARRM/MOHR Day at the Capitol and
other disability or group-specific events. Tuesdays at the Capitol, organized by MNCCD, have been a staple of organizing efforts. Other rallies and days at the capitol have ramped up since capitol renovations were completed a couple of years ago.

Check websites for specific agendas and goals, advocacy days and training sessions.

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