There has been a lot of activity at the State Capitol involving people with disabilities! The Council was a co-sponsor of Disability Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 27 and it was a huge success! Over 500 people participated in the rally in the Capitol rotunda raising awareness and sharing their stories with lawmakers. On February 28, Minnesota’s Management and Budget Office announced a projected state surplus of $329 million for the remainder of the two-year budget cycle ending June 2019. This surplus could provide funding for priorities of some of our partner organizations, including a 10% increase for PCA’s who serve people who live at home and need 10 or more hours of care per day (Enhanced Rate for PCA fact sheet [PDF]). This bill lost its funding during the 2017 special session, so advocates are working hard to ensure a portion of the surplus funds this critical need.
Our top priority, Bonding for Accessible State Parks, is gaining momentum. On March 5, Senator Carrie Ruud introduced a $20 million bonding bill, S. F. 2963, for comprehensive accessibility improvements at 4 state parks. Representative Rod Hamilton is chief author of the bill in the House, H.F. 3549. We have been busy meeting with legislators on the Capital Investment Committees educating them on the need for our park and recreation system to be accessible for all Minnesotans. A fact sheet on this bonding initiative will be available next week.
Our executive director, Joan Willshire, testified on March 6 at a hearing in the House Commerce committee on H.F. 3032 regulating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. She wanted the committee to be aware of an unintended consequence this legislation would have on the City of Minneapolis, which has established a Wheelchair Accessible Taxicab Program from license fees paid by the two companies. This program provides on-demand taxi services for people with disabilities using 36 wheelchair accessible taxicabs.
MCD has been a stakeholder in discussions surrounding legislation (H.F. 3157/S. F. 2646) to curb the misrepresentation of service animals. We have heard from folks who use service animals that this is a major problem. Not only does this misrepresentation give people with disabilities who use highly trained service animals a bad name, it also puts their much needed and very expensive animals in danger. MCD hopes this legislation will curb this behavior while not shifting the burden of responsibility on to people with disabilities to prove their animal is valid. The best way to accomplish this is to educate businesses, the public, and people with disabilities what their rights and responsibilities are as well as the difference between service animals and therapy/emotional support animals. Whatever the outcome of this legislation, MCD will continue to educate everyone on this issue.
Joan also testified to the House Transportation Finance Committee at a March 8 informational hearing on autonomous vehicles. She emphasized the dramatic impact self-driving cars could have for people with disabilities and the elderly provided technology solutions are developed with universal accessibility in mind. Specifically, the need for a minimum of a level 4 autonomous vehicles which can operate without a steering wheel.
Finally, there will be a hearing on Monday, March 12 in the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee on S.F. 2064, which eliminates outdated language from state statute regarding accessibility of public buildings in the building code (S.F. 2064/H.F. 2013: Accessibility of Public Buildings fact sheet). Margot Imdieke Cross, MCD’s Accessibility Specialist, will be testifying.