Ways to follow up: Watch these five issues at the capitol

Gov. Dayton 2012Minnesotans with disabilities, their family members and advocates will be tracking many issues during the Minnesota Legislature’s 2016 session. Here’s an overview of five key issues to follow, along with information on how to keep track of what state lawmakers are doing.

MNSure. A January report by the Minnesota Legislative Auditor showed that MNSure, Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, made errors that cost the state about $200 million in 2015. Just before the report was released, the Health Care Financing Task Force made recommendations to increase accessibility to health care, to make it easier to retain or switch coverage, and to improve service delivery.

Calls for MNSure reform are likely this session. Many Republicans have raised concerns about MNSure, with some calls to do away with it entirely. Minnesota Department of Human Services leadership agree that improvements
need to be made. For people with disabilities who must find their own insurance and don’t qualify for other state programs, MNSure often is the only option.

Minnesota state academies. Part of the record $1.4 billion bonding bill includes needs for the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind. Gov. Mark Dayton recommends $2 million for asset preservation for aging buildings on both campus, as well as $50,000 for pre-design of a safety corridor to connect buildings on the deaf students’ campus. Dayton also recommends $160,000 to match private grant funds to build a track for the blind students’ campus. Both facilities are in Faribault.

Housing. By 2020, the number of people age 65 and older in Minnesota will outnumber persons in the ages 5 to 17-year-old age bracket. That will be a first in state history. A recent report by Maxfield Research indicates that the demand for affordable senior housing will increase 54 percent by 2020. There are about 25,000 affordable senior housing units in Minnesota. An additional 150,000 older adult households qualify for these units. How to fund more accessible, affordable housing will be debated this session.

Transportation. The 2016 session began with no agreement on how to finance needed road, bridges, transit and para-transit projects. Transit and para-transit support are almost always under fire by lawmakers who want more money to go to roads. A gas tax, which was curbed in 2015, doesn’t appear likely this session. One idea on the table is to divert sales taxes paid for auto parts for transportation.

Minnesota Security Hospital and other facilities. Dayton’s bonding bill calls for $70 million to complete renovation of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. The building’s physical design has raised fears about patient and staff safety.

Another recommendation is for $14.5 million to expand the St. Peter Community Preparation Services program to serve the growing number of sex offender program clients in later stages of treatment. A third request is for $12.4 million to build two new “less restrictive, community-based facilities” for people in the sex offender with particular medical needs. This would include persons with disabilities in that program.

Want to follow a bill? Contact a state lawmaker? The legislature’s main web page also contains much useful information. Learn how to follow RSS feeds of hearings, find and contact a specific state lawmaker, get the text of a bill and more here.

Also helpful is that the website also offers detailed online information to track bills, including committee hearing dates and times, bill updates and the status of a bill. Go to www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/trackbill to find and follow legislation. This service, as well as advocacy group online updates, are a big help to anyone following a bill’s progress.