MNCDHH Legislative Update – February 27, 2017

Legislative Update, February 27, 2017

This week we had a hearing, additions to the Commission’s legislative agenda, new understanding of a bill already on the agenda, and more bill introductions.

Hearing on training for staff who care for seniors
The bill to require training for staff who care for seniors (HF 952) had a hearing in the House Subcommittee on Aging on Wednesday, February 22, 2017. The author, Representative Deb Kiel, described challenges experienced by her family members with hearing loss while communicating with staff in care settings. Board member Dr. Mark DeRuiter gave an overview of the Commission’s work on age-related hearing loss. Dr. Rebecca Younk explained that seniors with age-related hearing loss miss out on connections with their family members.

Representatives from organizations that represent assisted living facilities shared that they have concerns about the proposal, but that they are in discussions with us about what is workable. The committee unanimously passed the bill. It will be heard again next week in the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee.

Hearing on increasing the Commission’s funding
Also on Wednesday, there was a hearing on HF 1043, a bill that will increase the Commission’s funding in the Commerce Committee in the House. There was a brief hearing, MNCDHH was given five minutes and Mary Hartnett testified. It passed and was sent to the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance where there will be a full hearing.

Additions to the Commission’s Legislative Agenda – Education & Voting
The Commission has added a new education policy to the list of bills that we will be working on this legislative session. The Legislature is looking at restructuring the way that teachers in the state are licensed. The primary bill being considered in the House is HF 1079, which is authored by Representative Sondra Erickson (Princeton).

There are four licensure tiers proposed in order to address the dire shortage of teachers.

The licensing proposals would have a big impact on deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing students, ASL teachers and Deaf/Hard of Hearing licensed teachers. We will be in conversation with the legislators working on these bills about the needs of all of these groups.

The Commission also decided to support a bill related to voting. The bill’s goal is to protect the privacy of voters who use equipment that makes voting accessible. Some new accessible voting equipment being used in Minnesota has ballots that are smaller than those used by other voters. This means election judges who worked in the polling place on Election Day could automatically know who cast that ballot. This bill protects voters’ privacy by preventing election judges from conducting a recount of votes in that precinct if fewer than 10 voters used the accessible voting equipment.

New understanding of a bill already on the agenda
The legislative agenda released in January explained that the Commission is opposed to any efforts to weaken laws that require businesses websites to be accessible. As we have worked with our allies on this issue, we have come to understand that the ADA, other federal laws and the state law do not explicitly require that businesses make their websites fully accessible, i.e. screen reader friendly, closed captions, etc.

To add on to the bad news, business groups want to clarify that the state law does not require businesses’ websites to be accessible and that individuals cannot bring a lawsuit to force them to be accessible. The business groups have a lot of influence with legislators and this type of bill is likely to pass.

However, we will be asking legislators to at least add a few good things such as
• Include language encouraging all businesses to make their websites fully accessible,
• Require the state to give preference to doing business with businesses that have accessible websites.
• Furthermore, require that the state only give business to IT companies that have accessible websites, since IT companies at least should know how to make their sites accessible.
The complete transcript is available at: http://mn.gov/deaf-commission/news/index.jsp?id=1063-281830

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