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April 3, 2017: Legislative Update

New information about bill hearings and statuses

4/3/2017 12:58:55 PM

We have approximately one month's worth of updates to share with you. Under Part 1, there are updates about:

  • Increase the Commission's funding
  • DHHSD and deaf mentors
  • Training for staff who care for seniors
  • Good acoustics and hearing loops
  • Assistive Technology bill
  • Accessible websites for businesses legislation

Under Part 2, there are updates about:

  • Reorganization of state education agencies & teacher licensing
  • Superior SLPI rating for teachers
  • Adult Basic Education funding
  • Minnesota State Academies funding
  • Vocational Rehabilitation funding
  • Central Accommodations Fund
  • Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Lobby Day

If you have any questions, please contact MNCDHH at

Part 1

ASL version

English version

So much has happened since the last update, including many bill hearings, and of course Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Lobby Day! Because we have so much to share with you, we are dividing this update into a two-part series. This is the first video of a two-part update regarding the status of the bills the Commission is supporting this year:

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.

Watch part 2 of this update for additional information.

Part 2

ASL version

English version

This is the second video of a two-part update regarding the status of the bills the Commission is supporting this year:

Reorganization of State Education Agencies & Teacher Licensing

The bill to create four tiers of licenses for teachers that we mentioned in our last update has a new number. It is included in several different bills: HF 140, SF 4 and the Education Finance Omnibus bill (HF 890, SF 718).

This bill also restructures which state agencies oversee teacher licenses. Currently, the Board of Teaching does part and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) does part. Having two agencies manage the process has caused confusion. The bill would remove MDE from the process entirely. It renames and restructures the Board of Teaching. It would now be called the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

The House and Senate bill both establish four tiers for teachers, but the bills have differences in the requirements for getting a license in each tier. The Commission is talking to legislators to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing students are only taught by teachers with the appropriate training to meet their needs.

Superior SLPI Rating for Teachers

A few weeks ago we were surprised to see an amendment to the Teacher Licensing bill that would have required all teachers for deaf and hard of hearing students to have a minimum of superior rating on the Sign Language Proficiency Interview. This would have included teachers with a regular DHH teaching license and an Aural / Oral teaching license. Superior is a rating that is typically achieved by native ASL users or those immersed in ASL in their formative language-learning years. If this change was made to the law, it would have disqualified many DHH teachers. The Commission was not aware that anyone was asking legislators to make this change. We always try to be sure that all of the affected groups sit down and talk and try to find agreement before a bill is introduced, especially on issues related to teacher licensure.

The Commission needed to respond quickly. We contacted education experts we have worked with in the past on teacher licensure. Jay Fehrman, Ann Mayes, Kitri Kyllo and board member Bren Ackerson. Jay Fehrman was unable to come to the Capitol but wrote a letter asking the legislators to drop the amendment. Ann, Kitri, and Bren came to the Capitol to ask legislators to drop the proposed amendment requiring a minimum of Superior rating on the SLPI for now. The legislators agreed and it was not added to the bill.

Adult Basic Education Funding

The bill to provide additional funding to Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs, including the Deaf ABE program has been introduced. In the House, it is SF 1973 and is authored by Representatives Roz Peterson (Lakeville), Jerry Hertaus (Greenfield) and Carlos Mariani (Saint Paul). In the Senate, it is SF 1792 and is authored by Senators Carla Nelson (Rochester), Paul Anderson (Plymouth), Eric Pratt (Prior Lake) and Patricia Torres Ray (Minneapolis). Unfortunately, this additional funding for ABE was not included in either the House or Senate Education Finance Omnibus bills. Jessalyn Akerman-Frank and Beth Fraser testified. They explained the critical services that Deaf ABE provides and asked legislators to try to find more money for ABE as the bill moves through the process.

Minnesota State Academies Funding

The Governor recommended that the Minnesota State Academies receive an additional $2.7 million to increase staff, purchase updated resources and to maintain the facilities. Unfortunately, the House did not include any additional funding for the State Academies in its Education Finance Omnibus bill. The Senate included an additional $800,000 in its Education Finance Omnibus bill. Terry Wilding and two students from the Academies testified and urged the committee to provide all of the additional funding that had been requested. The Committee did not make a change at this point. There is a chance that funding for the Minnesota State Academies could be increased as the Legislature negotiates with the Governor over the Education Finance Omnibus bill.

The Minnesota State Academies also asked for $2.6 million in funding for improving the facilities on campus. We do not know yet whether these funds will be included in the Capital Investment Omnibus (Bonding) bills.

Vocational Rehabilitation Funding

The Governor recommended an additional $3.5 million per year be dedicated to Vocational Rehabilitation to eliminate waiting lists for these services. Unfortunately, this funding was not included in either the House or Senate Jobs Finance Omnibus Bill (SF 1937). We expect that the Governor will push hard for this funding in negotiations with the legislature.

Central Accommodation Fund

In 2015, the Commission successfully convinced the state to establish an Accommodation Fund to help state agencies hire more employees with disabilities. Money is included in the state budget for the accommodation fund each year. Unfortunately, however, Senator Mary Kiffmeyer proposed removing all of the money from the Accommodation Fund in the Senate State Government Omnibus bill (SF 605). Eric Nooker testified before the committee about how the Accommodation Fund has helped him as a state employee. As a result of his testimony, Senator Kiffemeyer added back ½ of the funding. Senator John Hoffman offered an amendment on the Senate floor to restore the rest of the money for the Accommodation Fund. Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a party-line vote with all of the Republicans voting against it. Rep. Sarah Anderson kept the funding in the House State Government Finance bill. The next step is for the House and Senate to negotiate over the differences between the bills, including this one. We will continue to urge legislators to restore the full amount of money to the Accommodation Fund.

Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Lobby Day

Thanks to you, Lobby Day was a tremendous success. We had record numbers of appointments, volunteers, and new leadership to make it successful. We will follow up next week with a vlog dedicated to Lobby Day. We are all still recovering from the big day and haven’t had time to thank everyone, but we will! Stay tuned!

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