Last week, the Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD) and the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) co-hosted the 2021 Legislative Forum. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved the forum to a virtual webinar setting. However, this did not stop nearly 200 Minnesotans, legislators, and the governor’s office from participating in the event.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly hard on Minnesotans and especially those with disabilities. It has highlighted more than ever the importance of services and policies that support and protect Minnesotans with disabilities. However, the pandemic has forced us to re-think traditions and reflect on our habits and routines. By creating a virtual space for the forum, people in Greater Minnesota and those with transportation limitations could participate in ways that were not possible before.
The forum started with opening remarks from the MCD Council Chair Nikki Villavicencio, who emphasized that “all bodies are whole, all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them.” Next, the new Executive Director, David Dively, welcomed legislators and reminded everyone that MCD “is responsible for a tremendous task…we are charged with advocating, educating, training, and informing government agencies, the governor’s office, the legislature, and the public on behalf of all people with all types of disabilities.”
Over a dozen returning and newly elected legislators present at the virtual forum, all of whom made remarks and affirmed their commitment to protecting and furthering the rights of Minnesotans with disabilities. MCD and MNCCD are incredibly grateful to have so many legislative champions willing to author, sponsor, and push for legislation that serves the disability community in Minnesota. It is no surprise that when legislators prioritize the needs of those with disabilities, the entire state of Minnesota benefits. Many of the legislators joined the forum because they received many calls and emails from their constituents. All legislators promised to work harder than ever to ensure that Minnesotans with disabilities are not left behind, especially during this health and economic crisis.
Next, MCD Public Policy Director, Trevor Turner, laid out the legislative agenda for the 2021 legislative agenda. The agenda items included ensuring all state agency budgets that provide services to the disability community are protected or expanded. It also had improved pay rates for Personal Care Assistants, better healthcare access for people with rare diseases, and expanding protections in the Minnesota Human Rights act. The MCD legislative agenda’s goals are to benefit a diverse range of disabilities and increase interagency and inter-organizational cooperation between MCD and the rest of the disability community.
Maren Hulden of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid presented the MNCCD 2021 Policy Agenda, which included a wide range of policies and legislative items, all under the following guiding policy principles: creating an equitable, accessible, safe, and just society. MNCCD’s policy agenda is progressive and ambitious, and MCD is excited to work together with them on many shared policy goals for the 2021 legislative session.
Representative Tina Liebling, chair of the Health & Human Services Finance Division, and Representative Jennifer Schultz, chair of the Long-Term Care Division, spoke on the legislative panel and answer questions. Representative Liebling emphasized the importance of upcoming budget negotiations and protecting the agencies and programs that provide vital services to the disability community. Representative Schultz highlighted the critical services offered by PCAs and long-term care providers. Both Representative Liebling and Representative Schultz committed themselves to be champions for the disability community and the work with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get these priorities accomplished.
MCD and MNCCD were honored to have both Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan speak at the legislative forum, considering their busy schedules as they lead our state through the COVID-19 pandemic. Lt. Governor Flanagan began her remarks by saying that “truly all of you [in the disability community] are the ones who can set the agenda here and should be doing so. People who are most directly impacted should have a voice. Really, we should center the voices of the most impacted.” Governor Walz spoke about the state COVID-19 response and how the pandemic has affected people with disabilities and communities of color. He explained that the state’s path to recovery is centered on Minnesotans uniting to protect the most vulnerable. MCD and MNCCD are grateful for Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan’s leadership during these challenging times and their commitment to the disability community.
The second half of the legislative forum was open to public comments, ideas, and concerns about the affairs of the disability community. We heard from a wide range of folks representing all walks of life and all disabilities. The legislators listened intently and took notes on how to address these concerns and wishes.
The Legislative Forum was a success and highlighted how important it is for legislators to meet with and listen to the communities they serve. It was an excellent opportunity for the disability community to have their voices heard. Now MCD and MNCCD can go forward with a mandate: hold their elected leaders accountable for the promises they made.
MCD and MNCCD would like to thank all of those who participated in the Legislative Forum and encourage everyone to participate in the policymaking process. Never hesitate to reach out to MCD and MNCDD at any time to express your concerns and share your ideas. Doing this ensures that we keep moving forward to improve access, inclusion, and community representation.