What we did during this legislative session and what is left to do
6/30/2021 3:07:56 PM
If you are DeafBlind or prefer to watch the video in a slow-paced, high contrast format, watch the DeafBlind friendlier ASL version instead.
Hello, I’m Alicia. I’m the government relations director for the Commission. To describe my appearance, I’m a white Hispanic woman with dark wavy hair to my shoulders, with glasses. My black jacket has white flower illustrations at bottom. I’m standing in front of a black background.
I started my position in April, and I’m here now to share our most recent legislative updates.
So, Minnesota has a House and Senate, and they’ve already passed many bills. Now, select members from each have come together to form what’s called conference committees. Those committees are responsible for comparing the House and Senate versions of each bill to identify the similarities and differences, then negotiating to merge the two into one bill. This merged bill then goes back to the House and Senate for another vote. That’s the goal being worked on now.
The Commission keeps an eye on multiple issues to improve the quality of life for deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind people in Minnesota. Right now, because the conference committees are happening, we are focusing on the three issues in bills actively being discussed by these committees.
First, captioning for new livestreams of the legislature.
Minnesota provides livestreams of House debates, Senate debates, and committee discussions. It’s nice, you can go to leg.mn.gov to see what’s happening live, and they’re captioned. When the pandemic hit, they decided to add more livestreams so that more people could watch from home. Nice, but one problem: the captioning funds were maxed out and they couldn’t add captions for the new livestreams.
A bill was brought to the House that proposed a fund increase of 172% for the livestream captioning. Meanwhile, the Senate’s bill kept the funding the same, with no increase.
Of course, the Commission sent a letter to the conference committee and requested that they go with the House’s 172% increase. At this time, it looks like the committee agrees and has put the language into the final merged bill that they are recommending to the legislature.
Keep in mind, this increase isn’t official just yet. They are almost finished putting together the merged bill and will bring it to the House and Senate for another vote. Once they vote to adopt, the bill then goes to governor, who then needs to approve and sign it into law. Those haven’t happened yet, but looks like we’re getting there.
The second issue: CMV testing in babies.
So, what’s CMV? That’s cytomegalovirus, a fairly common virus. If an adult becomes infected, their symptoms tend not to be serious. But if a pregnant individual becomes infected and passes it to the baby, when the baby is born, they often have a number of issues that need support services. Those issues include hearing loss.
Some of you may recall that Minnesota already has a law that requires that all babies born be tested for hearing.
So, if we already have this testing, why do we need to add CMV? Well, when babies are born with CMV often their hearing test results don’t show anything unusual. It’s not until later that their hearing loss shows up, typically between birth and approximately age two.
That means the family of a baby born with CMV may be unaware and when the baby is identified as having typical hearing, the family goes home to their routine everyday lives. When the baby does develop hearing loss, the family is unaware and moves on without realizing their deaf or hard of hearing child is now at risk for delays in language development.
If we were to check for CMV, then that would help us catch these babies and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.
The Senate’s bill has money set aside for adding CMV screening plus distributing information and resources to families. The House’s version does not include those provisions.
So we sent a letter urging the conference committee to adopt the Senate language.
Although there was a lot of different views on this issue, it seems the committee worked out an agreement to include the Senate language, with one change. They agreed to delegate the final recommendation to Minnesota’s NSAC, Newborn Screening Advisory Committee. The agreement is to task the NSAC with making the final recommendation as to whether CMV screening should be added. If the NSAC agrees to add CMV screening, the money will be ready to go. That’s a good thing.
Again, it won’t become official until after the House and Senate vote again and the governor signs it.
Now, the third issue is related to phones, specifically “landlines.”
Currently Minnesota has a law that requires phone companies, which they call “local exchange carriers,” to guarantee access to basic phone services for any resident.
If, for example, a customer lives in a remote area with no overhead or in-ground telephone wires and wants basic phone service, the phone company is required to add the necessary facilities to reach that customer.
That added line is typically a landline. So, we have that “obligation to serve” in current statutes. The Senate bill proposes to remove that guarantee.
When we looked into this, we realized this could have a disproportionate impact on multiple groups. The first group includes people with age-related hearing loss, hard of hearing individuals, and deaf seniors. This group is more likely to be using specialized assistive equipment with phones. That equipment often is most compatible with analog phones. As opposed to digital, such as internet and mobile services, which do not work as well as analog landlines.
Another group is deaf individuals who live in rural parts of Minnesota. Those areas often have slow internet speeds and spotty cellular coverage. This means residents may not be able to access tools like VRS, IP-Relay, or mobile texting. That leaves them with the analog TTY. Which requires a landline.
The Commission sent a letter asking that this proposed language be rejected, to leave the guarantee in place.
Again, looks like good news. The most recent merged draft does not touch that guarantee, leaves it in place. That’s what we want. We will continue to monitor this bill until the final vote is taken by the House and Senate.
ASL by Alicia Lane-Outlaw, Government Relations Director
The Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing thanks:
Jamie Schumacher for voiceover.
Keystone Interpreting Solutions for film production.