The 2018 legislative session officially ended Monday, May 21. With the Governor’s veto of the omnibus supplemental budget bill and omnibus tax bill this summary just got a lot more complicated!
Capital Investment or Bonding Bill
The good news is the Accessible State Parks initiative did receive funding in the omnibus capital investment bill, which the Governor is very likely to sign. While it is far short of our initial $20 million and the Governor’s $10 million request to improve accessibility at state parks, the $500,000 bonding funds will enable the Department of Natural Resources to move forward with accessibility design plans for state parks with advice from the Council. This means the next accessible state parks bonding request will include detailed, “shovel-ready” plans. In the words of one legislator, it was a “minor miracle” this new project was funded at all given the $825 million funding limit the House and Senate established for their bonding bills and over $3 billion in bonding requests. While the final bonding bill that passed the Legislature during the last minutes of the 2018 session is characterized as a $1.5 billion bonding bill, the Legislature did not increase their $825 million limit. The $1.5 billion total counts higher interest appropriations bonds and funding from the Environmental Trust Fund.
It’s important to acknowledge the groundwork that was laid this session educating policymakers about the huge need to make our 75 state parks accessible so ALL Minnesotans can enjoy these state assets. We had a successful media event with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that raised awareness among policymakers and the public. We also began building a diverse group of stakeholders around this issue including: the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Disabled American Veterans, the National MS Society, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, and Paralyzed Veterans of America – MN Chapter. There is huge potential for this stakeholder group to grow into an Accessible State Parks Coalition under the leadership of the Council.
The bonding bill also includes significant money to help address housing needs of people with disabilities, $90 million for affordable housing bonds and $30 million for mental health crisis centers. However, it is disappointing that this same bonding bill included no funding for public transit.
Now for good news about bills that were NOT enacted this session. The transportation constitutional amendment to use a portion of existing sales taxes to fund roads and bridges passed the House but stalled in the Senate Tax Committee. This amendment not only ignored transit needs, but would have tied the hands of future policymakers to fund critical needs like disability services. Additionally, an attempt to establish Medical Assistance work requirements that threatened health care and prescription drug coverage for 20,000 people with disabilities failed. The Council supported the efforts of coalitions to defeat these measures. Finally, the over 30% cut to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights operating budget was not included in the final omnibus budget bill.
Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill
Which brings me to the measures that were included in the 990 page omnibus supplemental budget bill, released just hours before the House and Senate were asked to vote on it. This bill included funding to delay the 7% cut to Home and Community Based Services and a repeal of the bulk purchasing program for incontinence products that reduced choice and minimized quality product options. It also included modest reforms to the state’s regulation of nursing home and assisted living facilities, including a task force for assisted living licensure, to which the Council was appointed. The consumer group established by the Governor in the Fall 2017 following revelations of widespread abuse in these facilities said these reforms were insufficient to end the abuse. Finally, our provision to eliminate outdated and confusing language about the accessibility of public buildings was included in the Department of Labor and Industry Article of this huge bill. The Governor made the difficult decision to veto this bill because there were just too many bad provisions for Minnesota.
I want to end this summary with good news about two standalone bills that have been signed by the Governor. Beginning August 1, 2018, the misrepresentation of service animals will be illegal. The first violation of this law will be a petty misdemeanor and subsequent violations a misdemeanor. Businesses may post the sign, “Notice: Service Animals Welcome. It is illegal for a person to misrepresent an animal in that person’s possession as a service animal.” The Council will be developing a brochure to help educate businesses, the public, and people with disabilities about their rights and responsibilities under this new law.
Also succeeding with huge bi-partisan support was the Step Therapy Reform bill that allows providers to request a waiver to a step therapy protocol when they believe it is in their patient’s best interest. While this law does not stop a plan from requiring the use of generic over name brand drugs and does not require a plan to provide coverage for a drug that is not on the formulary, it will help people with complex medical conditions get access to the medication they need without detrimental delays. For more information about this new law contact the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It has been a pleasure working with the Council staff this legislative session. Please continue your good work. I look forward to enjoying a fully accessible state park in the near future!