2015 Legislative Session Wrap Up

2015 Special Session Update and Legislative Session Wrap Up

ASL Translation of the following update:

Last week the legislature held a one-day special session. It is hard to have an impact during a special session, because all of the decisions are made in private negotiations by the Governor and the very top legislative leaders before the session begins. The Commission worked tirelessly to get their attention and convince them to take action on several issues in our legislative agenda.

Overall, the Commission succeeded at getting many of our bills passed this year. Thanks to all who advocated for the bills. The Commission’s legislative agenda comes from the community and is set by commission members. Your participation made a difference!

Thanks to the legislators who fought long and hard on our behalf to help us get our bills passed. Here’s what we accomplished together:

Communication Access Supports for Workers and Youth: PASSED

The Jobs Finance bill passed during the special session included $1 million per year for grants to groups like VECTOR and MEC to provide communication access supports for adults and youth who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing.

Thanks to the bill authors, Representative Rod Hamilton and Senator Matt Schmit, and to Conference Committee Chairs, Representative Pat Garofalo and Senator Dave Tomassoni.

What’s next?

The Department of Employment and Economic Development will send out a request for proposals that groups like VECTOR and MEC can respond to in order to receive funding.

Technology Funding for State Academies: PASSED

The Education Finance Bill passed during the special session included funding for technology at the State Academies.

Thanks to the bill authors, Representative Brian Daniels and Senator Vicki Jensen, and to Conference Committee Chairs, Representative Jennifer Loon and Senator Chuck Wiger.


The Education Finance Bill passed during the special session only partially fixes the problem that the Metro Deaf School has in enrolling students in their Pre-K program. The bill will allow parents to choose the Metro Deaf School, but prohibits the school from receiving state or school district funding to pay for these services.

Thanks to the legislators who tried to make this happen, Representative Sondra Erickson and Senator Chuck Wiger.

What’s next?

The Commission will come back to the legislature next year to fix this language and ensure that Metro Deaf School receives funding for these pupils. KARE-11 TV ran a story and Star Tribune published an article.

Hearing Loops and Acoustical Standards: COME BACK NEXT YEAR

The Construction bill (also known as a “bonding bill”) that was passed during the special session did not include the requirements for hearing loops and acoustical standards in state-funded construction projects. However, we built a lot of support for the proposal this year and are committed to passing it next year.

Thanks to the bill authors, Representative Tama Theis and Senator Ann Rest. Also thanks to the chair of the Senate Capitol Investment Committee who tried to get this included in the bill: Senator Leroy Stumpf.

What’s next?

Legislators want to see a cost estimate before approving these new requirements. The Commission will help arrange for the cost estimates to be done so that this bill can be passed next year.

Central Accommodation Fund: PASSED

The State Government Finance bill creates a central accommodation fund for state employees and puts $200,000 per year into it. This funding will continue in future years as well.

Thanks to the bill authors, Representative Dean Urdahl and Senator Jim Metzen, and to the Conference Committee Chairs, Representative Sarah Anderson and Senator Tom Saxhaug. Special thanks to two Representatives who fought for this, Representatives Cindy Pugh and Carolyn Laine.

What’s next?

The Commission will work with other state agencies to ensure that they know that they can use the Central Accommodation Fund to hire more deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing state employees.

Increased Funding for DHHS: PASSED

The Health and Human Services Finance bill provides the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division with an additional $1 million per year for the next two years. It will be used for deafblind support services, mental health services in ASL, and updates for the equipment labs. There will also be a study of how to best provide services throughout the state.

Thanks to the bill authors, Representative Nels Pierson and Senator Foung Hawj, and to the Conference Committee Chairs, Representative Matt Dean and Senator Tony Lourey.

What’s next?

The Commission will work with DHHS on a study of how it can best provide services to deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing Minnesotans across the state.

Text-to-911: PASSED

The Public Safety Finance bill includes the funding needed for citizens to be able to eventually text 911 in an emergency.

Closed Captioning: COME BACK NEXT YEAR

None of the bills include a requirement that TVs have the closed captioning turned on.

Thanks to the bill authors, Representative Jerry Newton and Senator Alice Johnson. Special thanks to Representative Brian Daniels for offering an amendment on the House floor.

What’s next?

The Commission will work with the Restaurant Association during the summer and fall to educate their members about the requirement to turn on closed captioning upon request. (This is a requirement under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.) We will also work on building support for legislation to require closed captioning to be passed when the legislature meets again next spring.

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Current and Past Legislation

The Commission of Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans is an advocacy organization that ensures individuals who are Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing have equal access to services, programs, and opportunities that are available to others. Here you will find listed the various legislative measures which the Commission has been successful in proposing and passing, year by year. We are grateful for all the support we have garnered in this process. Thank you!

2015 Legislative Agenda Team Key Talking Points

1. Funding for Communication Access Training in the Workplace
HF 1023 (Hamilton) / SF 486 (Schmit)

  • The state is facing a worker shortage and needs to encourage employment
  • Without training and support, deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing workers are not hired or face a revolving door
  • Supportive employment programs for deaf adults and transition-aged youth have proven results
    • For every $1 spent on adults, $3 is returned in wages
    • 90% of youth in programs like VECTOR are employed or enrolled in post-secondary education at the time of graduation
  • Other disability groups are guaranteed $28 million per biennium in employment supports and extended employment; deaf workers are guaranteed $0
  • Without funding, the organizations that offer these critical services have to lay off staff and cut back—not expand the way we need them to
  • The bill will expand services from just the metro area to Greater Minnesota
  • The proposal is for $1.2 million per year for both transition-aged youth and adults and would provide grants in the metro area and Greater Minnesota

2. Establish a Central Accommodation Fund for State Agencies
HF 1078 (Urdahl) / SF 989 (Metzen)

  • With the worker shortages in Minnesota, the State needs to do more to encourage people to join the labor force and attract and retain the best workers as state employees
  • A best practice for hiring more workers with disabilities is to have a Central Accommodation Fund that all state agencies can tap into to pay for special software, equipment, sign language interpreters or other technology
  • Then hiring managers won’t have to worry about the cost of accommodations in their budgets, especially at small agencies
  • It will show that the state is committed to hiring workers with disabilities
  • Private companies, like IBM, SunTrust and Microsoft, use Central Accommodation Funds
  • The federal government and the University of Minnesota also use Central Funds
  • The proposal is for $500,000 per year, which should be enough for accommodations and to cover the Department of Administration’s cost of overseeing the fund

3. Require Closed Captioning be Activated on TVs in Public Places
HF 253 (Newton) / SF 987 (Johnson)

  • Activating closed captioning makes TVs in public places (restaurants, bars, gyms, hospitals, etc.) accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing
  • It is helpful to hearing people in noisy environments and people learning English
  • The ADA requires that content be captioned and that TVs are able to display captions. This requires that the captioning be activated
  • When there is an emergency, it ensures everyone can access important safety information

4. Additional funding for DHS’s Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services Division, for Mental Health Services, and for Support Services for DeafBlind Children and Adults
HF 1341 (Pierson) / SF 1272 (Hawj)

  • The Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services Division (part of DHS, different than the Commission) provides critical services to the community in six offices around the state
  • An additional $1 million a year would:
    • Help eliminate the waiting list for deafblind children and adults
    • Provide deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing children mental health services in ASL
    • Provide funds needed for Regional Advisory Boards to meet and for staff to have funds to travel to provide training and meet with consumers
    • Do an analysis of how to best provide services statewide. Offices in Bemidji and Rochester have closed, meaning that those in Greater Minnesota may have to travel up to 4 hours one way to get services
    • Do an analysis of whether there is a simpler way to administer deafblind services

5. Funding for the Minnesota State Academies (for the Deaf and for the Blind) for Technology
HF 1224 (Daniels) / SF 920 (Jensen)

  • The Academies need $2.1 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and FY 2017 for computers, portable devices and software, access to electronic books, Wi-Fi connectivity, internet access to participate in current approaches to teaching and learning
  • The bill includes funding for technology in future budgets too

6. Preschool at Metro Deaf School (MDS)
HF 1591 (Erickson) / SF XXXX (Wiger)

  • MDS is a special education charter school that offers bilingual English / ASL education. Students have two ways to enroll:
    1. through district placement (resident district), or
    2. through Parent Choice—where parents can choose to enroll their child at any school they wish. Parent Choice currently only applies to grades K – 12. This bill adds preschool students to Parent Choice.
  • Having the choice of MDS is especially important for parents of deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing children, who may otherwise struggle to learn. Waiting until kindergarten is too late.

7. Require State-Funded Construction to Include Loops and Good Acoustics
HF 2057 (Theis) / SF 1784 (Rest)

  • When state government pays for the construction or major renovation of a public meeting space, it should be required to include good acoustics and include hearing loops, to ensure that everyone can hear what is said
  • Loops pick up just what is said into a microphone, not all of the sound in the room and transmits clear sound to t-coils in hearing aids, cochlear implants, and portable receivers

8. Text-to-911 Capability
HF 849 (Cornish) / SF 878 (Latz)

  • Until now, Minnesotans could only contact 911 in case of an emergency by telephone or TTY
  • The Governor proposed funds to allow Minnesotans to send a text message to 911
  • This is important for many deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing Minnesotans to contact emergency personnel

For further information, contact Beth Fraser at beth.fraser(at)state.mn.us or 651-431-5974.

Past Legislation

Legislation 2014

Legislation 2013

Legislation 2012

Legislation 2011

Legislation 2010

Legislation 2009

Legislation 2008

Legislation 2007