Top Disability Legislator Will Not Run Again

Next year, the disability community will be losing one of its strongest advocates when State Representative Kevin Goodno retires.  Goodno, 39, says he plans on spending more time with his two daughters and his wife, who is expecting a third child in August.

Disability advocates and legislators alike all agree that perhaps the single most important thing Goodno did for the disability community was help pass the work incentives act in 1999.  Also known as the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities law (MA-EPD), this legislation makes it easier for people with disabilities who have personal care attendants (PCAs) to enter the workforce and still keep their state paid health insurance.  “He was the bill’s chief sponsor, and without him, it never would have happened,” said John Tschida, senior director of public affairs and research at Courage Center.

MA-EPD, written by the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, was guided through the legislative process by Goodno.  According to Joel Ulland, public policy manager for the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, MA-EPD was the only spending bill passed in the last four years that was not part of a larger spending package, “largely because of Representative Goodno’s leadership.”

As a result of his efforts, Goodno, who chaired the Health and Human Services Finance Committee (HHSFC), received the Legislator of the Year Award from the MS Society in 1999 and 2001.  “Now there are 6,200 people with disabilities in Minnesota who are working because of the work incentives bill,” said Ulland.  Goodno received the same award from the Minnesota State Council on Disability and from Arc Minnesota, as well as other awards.

“No one has been a stronger voice for people with disabilities in Minnesota,” said Tschida, who with other advocates, credits Goodno with the success of disability programs during the last budget session despite the $2.3 billion dollar budget shortfall.

Beyond MA-EPD

Another piece of legislation Goodno guided through the process was the patient protections bill, which offers better continuity of care for people who change health plans, and improves access to specialty care.  Goodno also helped extend the state prescription drug program to cover people under 65 who receive Medicaid.  The program takes effect this July.  According to Ulland, Goodno secured the funding for the program and “kept fighting to include people with disabilities into the program and to make sure it included enough funding for them.”

Jeff Bangsberg, government relations director of the Minnesota HomeCare Association, met Goodno seven years ago.  According to Bangsberg, the efforts of Goodno and Representative Fran Bradley resulted in a five-cent per hour rate increase for PCAs in 1997.  And Goodno’s efforts to pass MA-EPD, said Bangsberg,  “were just as important as the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Anne Henry, an attorney who works for the Disability Law Center, agrees with Bangsberg that Goodno’s work on the Medical Assistance (MA) income standard was another hallmark of his legislative career.  According to Henry, in 1997 she was working with a group concerned about the financial eligibility limits placed on people with disabilities for receiving Medical Assistance, “which had not been raised in 15 years.”  Henry said Goodno went to bat to raise the limits.

According to Bangsberg, Goodno’s strategy for accomplishing this was to attach the income standards to the federal poverty guidelines (FPG), so that when they increased, so would the MA income standard.  Essentially what this did was remove the spenddown the amount one must spend of his/her own Social Security benefits on medical bills before being able to use one’s eligibility for MA for about two thirds of the population.  With Goodno’s help, currently the people at or below 100% of the FPG pay no spenddown.  The individuals that receive income over the 100% guideline must pay down to 75% of the FPG.

“Kevin Goodno was willing to tackle what is a very convoluted, complex matter,” said Henry.  “We really appreciate the leadership he showed in the House with his colleagues on disability issues.  He worked very hard to see that these matters got the attention and support they needed, and for that we are forever grateful.  He also was extremely respectful of people with disabilities who testified in his committee, and he was very accommodating.  He will be deeply missed by the disability community.”

According to Bob Brick, executive director of Arc Minnesota, Goodno was instrumental in helping Arc with its Unlock the Waiting List Campaign in 1999.  As a result of his and Representative Bradley’s efforts, said Brick, legislation was passed that has permitted more than 7,000 people to get waivered services through the MRRC (Mental Retardation or Related Conditions) waiver program.  MRRC, a Medical Assistance funded program, provides a range of services to people with developmental disabilities, from respite care to 24-hour out of home placement.  “From a developmental disabilities perspective, his efforts to unlock the waiting list will be massive,” said Brick. “We’re hoping the new chair [of the HHSFC] will follow the example set by Representative Goodno and remain committed to ensuring that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, and that funds are appropriated so that they can exercise those rights.”

Praise from Peers

Representative Bradley, who is chair of the Health and Human Services Policy Committee, worked with Goodno for four years.  The two worked on disability legislation together, and of that, Bradley commented, “Kevin has been steadfast and persistent with his fights.  I know he has built a really great relationship with disability advocates.  Kevin is a rising star.”

Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum is among those who will really miss Kevin Goodno. According to Sviggum, Goodno led negotiations this year between the House and Senate. “Kevin not running again this year and not being chair of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee is a loss for Minnesota, and it’s a real loss for the disability community,” said Sviggum.  “He is without question one of the most caring, compassionate, and responsible persons I’ve ever met.”  Sviggum greed with Bradley, who said that Goodno’s decision to spend more time with his family reflects his commitment to others, which was one of the qualities that made him “such a great legislator.”

“The chair of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee will not be easily replaced,” said Sviggum.