Legislative Update: April 11, 2016

• Metro Deaf School bill hearings last week
• Closed Captioning bill hearing last week
• Acoustics & Looping bill

Metro Deaf School bill hearings last week

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Finance Committee had a hearing on the bill to allow parents of deaf or hard of hearing Pre-K children to choose the Metro Deaf School. Two people testified for the bill: Melissa Sweetmilk, the Dean of Students of the Metro Deaf School, and Rebecca Swinney, the parent of a student at MDS.

On Thursday, they both came back and testified again when the House Education Finance Committee had a hearing on the proposal.
Both times they did a great job explaining that parents of deaf and hard of hearing children need to be able to choose the Metro Deaf School for pre-K, if it is the right fit for their child. Deaf and hard of hearing children cannot wait to begin learning language until Parent Choice kicks in when the child goes to kindergarten.
Members of both the Senate Education Finance Committee and the House Education Finance Committee seemed supportive of the proposal. However, because the bill requires the state to spend some money, the committee did not immediately pass it. Instead, they put it aside and will decide in the next few weeks whether to include it in an “omnibus” bill has all of the spending proposals together in one bill.

Closed Captioning bill hearing last week

On Tuesday, the Closed Captioning bill, SF 2603, had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Jan McCready-Johnson, who is deaf, and Kathleen Marin, who is hard of hearing, both testified for the bill. They talked about how welcoming it feels to have the closed captioning already turned on when they walk into a room and don’t have to ask someone to turn it on for them.

Republican Senators on the committee raised concerns about the possibility that there could be lawsuits if the bill is passed and the closed captioning is not on. Senator Newman of Hutchinson offered an amendment to prevent people from bringing a lawsuit for a first violation. Other Senators opposed the amendment. Some said that they do not want to set a bad precedent and weaken the Human Rights Act, which is the law that the closed captioning bill would be added to. Others said that they think that closed captioning is just as important as other types of access for people with disabilities – those who do not provide closed captioning should face the same potential penalties as anyone else. The Committee voted against the amendment.

The Committee then voted on the bill and it passed on a party-line vote – all of the Democrats voted for it and all of the Republicans voted against it.

We are glad that the Committee voted for the bill, but are worried that all of the Republicans voted against it. Republicans are in control of the House and could stop the bill from passing if they decide that they do not like it.

Emory K. Dively and Beth Fraser talked to Rep. Brian Daniels, the bill’s House author, about the best strategy for proceeding. They will continue these conversations over the next few weeks to try to figure out how to get the bill passed this session.

Acoustics & Looping Bill

The one other bill that the Commission is working on is the bill to require that good acoustics and hearing loops be installed when the state funds the construction or major rehab of a public meeting space. This bill, SF 1784, was heard last year in the Senate Capital Investment committee. The Committee Chair and Committee members seemed to like the bill and we believe it is likely to be included in that committee’s omnibus bill when they put it together.

We are waiting to see if the House Capital Investment Committee will also hold a hearing on the bill, HF 2057.

For more information and to sign up for alerts, visit our website: http://mn.gov/deaf-commission/

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