In this update, we will share new information about the budget bills, the Capital Investment bill, and the bill for training staff who work with seniors about age-related hearing loss.
As you remember from last week, the Conference Committees, which is made up of members of the House and Senate, were negotiating with each other to figure out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bills. Over the last week, they made these decisions and are now negotiating with Governor Dayton about the differences between what they decided and what the Governor wants.
In most cases, we have good news about what the conference committees decided.
In the Jobs and Energy Omnibus Bill (SF 1937), they kept the increase in funding for the Commission. They did not include additional money for Vocational Rehabilitation; however, we know that the Governor will still be pushing for this increase.
In the Health and Human Services Omnibus Bill (SF 800), the legislators kept the bill to modernize and increase funding for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division (DHHSD) and the Deaf Mentor Family Program.
In the Education Omnibus Bill (HF 890), the legislators decided to increase the Minnesota State Academies’ budget by $800,000 over two years. Your calls and emails likely helped convince them. This amount is not as much as the State Academies requested, but is better than receiving no increase or even a budget cut. The Governor may be able to negotiate even more funding for the State Academies.
In the State Government Omnibus Bill (SF 605), the legislators decided not to cut the funding for the Central Accommodation Fund for state employees that the Commission got passed two years ago. They provided the full $200,000 per year. Your calls and emails had an impact! Unfortunately, the bill still requires agencies to pay for 50% of the cost of accommodations. Eric Nooker testified before the Conference Committee on Tuesday and asked them to change this — not to require agencies to pay half, especially for new employees. He explained that state agencies would be more likely to hire people with disabilities if they could get money from the Fund to pay for accommodations, at least at the beginning. This would give new employees a chance to prove themselves and give agencies time to work the cost of accommodations into their budget. We are still hoping to convince legislators not to require agencies to pay 50% of the costs of accommodations.
Capital Investment Bill or Bonding Bill
The House Capital Investment Committee unveiled their omnibus bill, usually called the Bonding Bill, because it pays for construction projects by selling state bonds. There is a lot of good news. The House bill includes the Commission bill that would require that good acoustics and hearing loops be considered in construction projects that the state helps to fund. The bill also includes over $2 million for the Minnesota State Academies for maintenance and updating buildings on the campus and for planning to improve student safety. It does not include funding for a track that the State Academies want to build.
The Senate Bonding Bill also includes over $2 million for the State Academies. The House and Senate and Governor will all negotiate to decide what will be in the final bill. Since the funding for the State Academies is in both the House and Senate bills and the Governor supports it, it is very likely that it will be included in the final bill. We are hopeful that the Senate and Governor will agree to also include the policy for good acoustics and hearing loops.
Bill for training staff who work with seniors about age-related hearing loss
HF 952, the bill to ensure that staff of assisted living facilities and home care agencies can take training about age-related hearing loss and have it count towards their annual training requirements was heard on the House floor on Thursday. Rep. Deb Kiel did a great job explaining the bill and there was a lot of support for it. It passed unanimously. It will be heard on the Senate floor sometime soon, possibly this week.
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