Increase the Commission’s funding
Several weeks ago, there was a hearing on the bill to increase the Commission’s funding in the Senate Energy and Utilities Committee. Commission member John Wodele, Andrew Palmberg, and Mary Hartnett testified. Several legislators said that the Commission does great work and deserves more funding. The following week the Senate committee included funding for the Commission in their omnibus budget bill. The House also included the funding in their Jobs Omnibus Finance bill (SF 1937). Having the funding in both the Senate and the House bills puts the Commission in a good position as the legislature moves into the next round of negotiations.
DHHSD and Deaf Mentors
The bill to modernize and increase funding for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division (DHHSD) and the Deaf Mentor Family Program had many hearings in recent weeks. A lot of people testified for the bill, including: Emily Smith Lundberg, Bren Ackerson, Jamie Taylor, Jaime Munson, John Gournaris, Casandra Xavier, parents of Deaf and DeafBlind children who receive intervener services or who are part of the Deaf Mentor Family Program: Nikki Fargo, Michele Paulson, and Emily Gold. Sonny Wasilowski testified and suggested some changes he would like to see made to the bill. Both the House and Senate committees have now included this funding in their Health & Human Services Omnibus Finance bills (SF 800 / HF 945). This is a good sign that the funding is likely to ultimately pass.
Training for staff who care for seniors (HF 952 / SF 818)
The bill about training for staff who care for seniors also had multiple hearings in recent weeks. Kathleen Marin, the Vice President of the Hearing Loss Association of America – Twin Cities Chapter, testified for the bill at all of the hearings. The bill was amended to make the training optional, instead of required, for staff at assisted living facilities and who provide home care to seniors. The amendment also eliminated the state cost of the bill, which makes it much easier to get it passed this session. Once the trainings are developed and facilities see the value of providing them to their staff, we could always come back to the legislature in a few years to pass a bill to make the trainings required.
Both the House and Senate committees passed the bill unanimously. The next step is to have it passed by the full House and the full Senate.
Good Acoustics and Hearing Loops
The bill to require that good acoustics and hearing loops be considered in state-funded construction had a hearing last week. Commission member John Wodele and Beth Fraser testified for the bill. Several legislators said that they think that this policy proposal is very important. The Committee did not vote on the bill. They set it aside and may include it in the Capital Investment Omnibus bill, also known as the Bonding Bill), which will be revealed sometime in April.
Assistive Technology Bill
There was a hearing in the House Education Policy Committee on HF 1339, the bill to require consideration of assistive technology in IEPs and IFSPs. Representatives from PACER showed some of the assistive technology that can really make a difference for children with disabilities. Jay Fehrman testified about the need to ensure that teachers include captions in any video that they make for their students. The Minnesota Association of Special Education Directors did not testify but did tell legislators that they were concerned that the bill would require special education teachers to do more paperwork.
Rep. Sondra Erickson has included a slightly different proposal in the House Education Policy Omnibus bill (HF 1376). The bill requires the Minnesota Department of Education to do a report on the use of assistive technology in school districts across the state. The report must include recommendations for the legislature about ways to encourage IEPs and IFSPs to incorporate the use of assistive technology, as appropriate.
Accessible Website Legislation
So far we have good news about this topic. You might remember that we had originally heard that some legislators planned to introduce an amendment that would say that state law does not require businesses to have accessible websites and would prevent anyone from suing a business to make their website accessible. The Commission has been thinking more about this proposal and has concluded that if it is offered we have to fight against it — even against the business lobbyists who have so much power at the Capitol. The good news is that so far legislators have not offered this amendment and it is beginning to look like this will not be brought in this year.
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