June 6, 2016
By: Rick Hammergren, Senior Director of Public Policy & Organizational Strategy
This year’s legislative session ended in an atmosphere of disappointment on many fronts. Indeed, as of this writing, the Governor and leaders of both caucuses are still embroiled in controversy evolving from the chaotic proceedings leading up to the legislature’s adjournment. The House adjourned sine die at about 11:30 p.m. on Sunday May 22 and the Senate shortly thereafter. The Governor is considering a pocket veto of the tax bill and negotiations are stalled regarding calling a special session to reach final agreement on the two key bills that leadership called essential this session: taxes and transportation. It appears that even after ten weeks of hearings and negotiations, the parties are no closer to agreement. The session has been plagued by volatile election year political positioning and stalled initiatives!
Unfortunately, the Best Life Alliance (BLA) and other public policy priorities supported by Opportunity Partners were not immune in this dysfunctional political climate. Despite garnering a majority of authors and supporters in both the House of Representatives and Senate, and a majority of Republicans and Democrats in support of the BLA bill which included a 5% rate increase to cover compensation increases for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), the BLA bill was not funded this session. This was a huge disappointment for more than 110,000 people who receive Home and Community Based Services and the 90,000 DSPs who provide these services.
On other matters supported by OP there were setbacks and a couple small victories. Our support for Medical Assistance (MA) reforms that would increase the money that MA recipients would have for personal needs each month also failed. We presented a strong case aligned with other strategic partners from the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, but the initiative was left unfunded. Similarly, a bill from the Provider Coalition for Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS) reforms was also stalled as we pressed for adjustments in rate formulas and other implementation policy of the DWRS.
However, there were a few bright spots that were part of OP’s legislative agenda which did have some positive momentum in the very short session this year. Extended Employment Provider Rate Funding was increased by $1M for one year effective 7-1-16; the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities received a modest appropriation to support monitoring and reporting on Olmstead Plan compliance; and we successfully testified at a Senate hearing to defeat a five-fold increase in state licensing fees that was proposed by the Department of Human Services.
In summary, defeats and disappointments overshadowed victories this session. BUT planning is already underway for a revitalized BLA campaign for provider rate increases, and the DWRS Provider Coalition is also gearing up for a targeted statewide effort to fix the flaws in State rate setting and ongoing management of MA Waiver Home and Community Based Services. Watch for more information in the coming weeks and months. The OP Public Policy Group will be hard at work on your behalf and will be asking for your calls, letters and e-mails in support of strategic Action Alerts during the 2017 Legislative Session. Thanks for your continued support and advocacy!