EXPECTING MORE

The 2013 Legislative Session began on Tuesday, January 8. It is the first year of the biennium which means the primary focus will be setting the biennial budget. The November election brought big changes in Minnesota state government. For the first time in 22 years, the Senate, House, and Governor’s office will all be controlled by the DFL. The election also brought 65 newly elected members of which nineteen have previously served in the legislature. The DFL has targeted balancing the budget, jobs creation, tax reform, and education as their top priorities. In the area of health care - health reform and adopting legislation to implement the health insurance exchange will be at the top of the list.

To better understand the legislative issues from the disability community perspective I reviewed the websites for The Arc of MN, Association of MN Counties, Association for Residential Resources in MN, Care Providers of MN, MN Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, MN Council of Nonprofits; and the MN Day Activity Center Association. Some common themes that emerged include:

• Support a balanced approach to the 2014-2015 budget;
• Enact a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) also known as a rate increase;
• Fund the health insurance exchange requirements and other Affordable Care Act mandates;
• Monitor Medicaid Reform initiatives coming from the Department of Human Services;
• Modernize and strengthen Minnesota’s election system while increasing access to voting;
• Ensure rate frameworks preserve the ability of organizations to provide critical disability services; and
• Promote funding strategies that assure people with disabilities live at the maximum level of independence.

The important issues that Merrick will be tracking this session include the following:

1. Encourage stakeholders to: (i) have the definition of DT&H services updated to reflect current practices and deemed an “essential service” (thereby mandated for payment during a government shutdown); and (ii) reestablish rules prohibiting any licensed provider from having 24-hour control of a vulnerable adult (sunshine rule) as part of finalizing the new licensing rule 245D.

2. Support MnDACA’s efforts to: (i) work with DHS on the final values for the new rate frameworks and implementation plan; (ii) repeal the 1.67% rate cut scheduled for 7/1/13 – 12/31/13 because CMS did not approve the state’s early implementation of the new nursing facility level of care (NFLOC) criteria; and (iii) eliminate the $2.55 “family out-of-pocket” fee being applied to MA providers.

3. Revise MS 174.30 (Subd 1)(c) to exclude vendors from STS regulations that exclusively provides transportation services to individuals enrolled in licensed day programs, including adult day care, family adult day care, day treatment and habilitation, prevocational services, and structured day services; and transports 15 or fewer persons, including passengers and the driver.

4. Oppose any legislation that does not affirm the service recipient’s choice as primary and/or restricts voting rights for citizens with a disability.

With the change in party control there has been a complete changeover in leadership. The Senate DFL has elected Senator Tom Bakk as the Majority Leader and he has served previously as the Minority Leader. Senator David Hann was elected as the Minority Leader, previously served as the Health and Human Services Finance chair, and is a friend to the disability community. Senator Tony Lourey will chair the Health and Human Services Finance Committee and Senator Kathy Sheran will chair the policy committee. Both are familiar with disability issues. In the House, Representative Paul Thissen was elected as Speaker and previously chaired the Health Policy committee. Representative Erin Murphy was elected Majority Leader and has served on the Health and Human Services Committee. Finally, the House Republicans have elected Representative Kurt Daudt as the Minority Leader and this is only his second term. Representative Tom Huntley will chair the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee and Representative Tina Liebling will chair the Health Policy Committee.

The November forecast projected another deficit of $1.1 billion for the coming biennium of FY2014-15. However, the current biennium ended with a positive balance of $1.3 billion which under current law was used to buy back the school payment shift. The DFL leadership and Governor Dayton are calling for a balanced approach in dealing with the deficit, meaning both additional revenue and budget cuts. The Governor has said that he will push his proposal to tax the top 2% of income earners. The Legislature has not totally embraced that proposal and has indicated an interest in tax reform that might close loopholes and/or expand the sales tax to cover more items, (i.e. clothing). The talk of additional revenue has triggered a lot of “pent up” demand for increased spending so DFL legislators are trying to lower expectations. That “pent up” demand is being felt by disability providers as rates have been cut to balance the budget. In fact, there has not been a COLA (cost of living adjustment) since 2008 and many services have had rates cut since then to balance the budget.

As evidenced by the recent election, citizens have grown weary of partisan dogma intending to restrict personal choice and political posturing on issues important to the wellbeing of our communities. It’s clear that our political and civic leaders are failing us - and it is our fault. As Sean Kershaw, Executive Director of the Citizens League, states in his recent Minnpost article – “I’m also tired of the pity-card being played by people like me who know better: who have enough time and energy and resources around them to do something differently; who recognize the silliness of whining and civic victimhood; and who realize that our leadership is a reflection of all of us and of a civic culture that has become too passive and a political culture that has become too toxic”. He goes on to discuss their new Quantum Civics program that sounds very intriguing and something to consider. Still it comes down to every citizen expecting that our civic and political leaders have a broader vision of what is good for our communities and the courage to find innovative strategies to confront the challenges we face. We have enough money, compassion, and intelligence to make Minnesota a better place for its citizens and we need to hold legislators in the 2013 session accountable for making progress to that end.

 

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