Category Archives: Minnesota Legislature

Direct Support Professionals – Clarification + Resources

Earlier this week this blog carried a piece about Direct Support Professionals Week which ends tomorrow. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/to-honor-and-thank-direct-support-professionals/) The intent was to honor and thank those good people who daily meet the needs of individuals with physical and mental challenges.

Unfortunately, that post contained a muddled sentence that implied the opposite of what was intended. With apologies, I want to correct any confusion and to share what was intended, i.e. that I totally support the opinions and data stated by individuals who are far more knowledgeable about what is a political football.

The fact is, those who care for our family members, friends and neighbors who are physically or mentally challenged are grossly and unfairly underpaid. In order to make that fact abundantly clear, I would cite a series of critical articles posted in recent months by Tim Benjamin, Editor of Access Press.

Though Tim has covered the issue of pay for Personal Care Attendants (Minnesota’s term for Direct Support Professionals) in numerous AP editorials, he has doubled-down in recent months, in particular since July 2016. Tim makes a compelling case that Minnesotans – all of us — need to pay heed to the fact that those who care for vulnerable Minnesotans are under–recognized, under-valued and woefully underpaid – and that this is the reason there is a woeful shortage of workers who are able, but disinclined, to meet what is not only a personal but a societal need. Click on Tim’s powerful and timely editorials starting here:

http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2016/07/08/editors-column-july-2016/

The Legislature has failed to come to grips, much less take action, on what is a public disgrace that diminishes the work of these professionals – with tragic results on the welfare of deserving residents of our state, a state that boasts of its compassion and commitment to the common good.

If you’re into data, read Dick VanWagner’s metrics-laden piece in last week’s Access Press: http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2016/09/09/by-the-numbers-is-there-really-a-shortage-of-pcas-heres-an-analysis/

Though there are other references to the issue, these are good places for each of us to learn about and frame the issue – then think about what we can do to face and remedy the crisis in care.

One priority is to follow monthly up-dates in Access Press –free and readily accessible at countless public newsstands that we pass by every day.  Click here to learn more about AP (http://www.accesspress.org) or subscribe to the online edition here: http://www.accesspress.org/subscribe/.

Read it and learn!

 

New and pending laws protect rights of students who write

NOTE: This post is for anyone who once lived life as a beat reporter, editor or even beleaguered adviser on a high school or college newsletter – daily or bi-weekly, print or digital.

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has just adopted a resolution that supports pending state legislation designed to protect the ability of high school/college journalists to write about issues of public concern without restraint or retribution.

The resolution states unequivocally:

A free and independent student media is an essential ingredient of a civically healthy campus community, conveying the skills, ethics and values that prepare young people for a lifetime of participatory citizenship.

ASNE action responds specifically to Illinois’ enactment of the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act. Illinois is the tenth state to pass laws that support students’ freedom of the press. Legislation is pending in Michigan, New Jersey – and yes, Minnesota.(https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF2537&version=0&session_year=2016&session_number=0)

The ASNE action is the tip of a grassroots movement. Other professional associations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Journalism Education Association, have passed similar resolutions to support the rights of student journalists.

In fact, the support was coalesced into a national movement known as New Voices (http://newvoicesus.com), a project of the Student Press Law Center (www.splc.org). The mission of New Voices is “to give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern.”   New Voices “works with advocates in law, education, journalism and civics to make schools and colleges more welcoming places for student voices.”

Responding the support from the journalism professions, Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, observes that “the consensus of those most knowledgeable about how journalism is practiced and taught is overwhelming: Students can’t learn to be inquisitive, independent-minded journalists – or inquisitive, independent-minded citizens – when schools exercise total control over everything they say and write.”

The history of the Student Press Law is interesting in itself. It actually grew out of the work of journalist Jack Nelson, best known for his coverage of the Watergate mess and the Civil Rights movement. In a revealing book entitled Captive Voices, based on interviews with student journalists and their teachers, Nelson contended that censorship in schools was pervasive; the book was actually commissioned by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Fund. Nelson’s findings influenced national awareness of student journalists’ rights, which led to a partnership between the RFK Memorial, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to create the Student Press Law Center.

Today, the SPLC, headquartered in Washington, DC. provides free legal assistance and training for student journalists and their teachers. More about the SPLC, including a library of free legal research materials, can be found on the SPLC website (http://www.splc.org)

 

 

Ballotpedia – A proven port in an information storm

It was Plato himself who advised us that “those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” My thought is that the translation “dumber” does a disservice to the wise man – “misinformed” might better fit the present state of affairs. Still, we get the idea.

It is axiomatic that this democracy is solidly based on an informed public; still, we the public are overwhelmed by questionable data, dubious interpretations, false accusations, apocryphal anecdotes and blatant abound. The flood of information offers us little time and few tools to consider the context or implications of the latest blast. The media blitz and push for ratings, the tweets, the cacophony and exchanges of ignorance have a propensity to drown out – or at least scramble – the truth.

One port in a storm I’ve found is Ballotpedia, the dynamic digital beehive based, as the mainstream media would say, “out there” – i.e. free of the NYC/DC political/media cocoon. Ballotpedia is the product of the Lucy Burns Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison. You can learn more about the Lucy Burns Institute in an earlier post: (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/the-spirit-of-activist-lucy-burns-blazes-on-through-the-lucy-burns-institute)

Basically, Ballotpedia is an online encyclopedia of American politics and elections. The expressed goal is “to inform people about politics by providing accurate and objective information about politics at all levels of government.” Ballotpedia is a one-stop shop for information about the structure, policies, officials, demographics, and issues facing decision makers and those affected by their decisions. With an editorial staff of over 60 writers and researchers, and a complex system of internal fact-checking, Ballotpedia’s “brand” could fairly be characterized as inclusive, accurate, timely, and, above all, neutral.

One of my personal favorite features of Ballotpedia is the list of “influencers” who call the shots in DC, in the State Capitol and at City Hall. While the reader might differ with the listing of identified influencers, it’s instructive to see these fact-checkers’ take on where the influence lies….

In the midst of the current political frenzy one feature of Ballotpedia plays a lead role; Verbatim (https://ballotpedia.org/Verbatim) is the fact-checking arm of the enterprise. The legions of Verbatim fact-checkers are neutral, inclusive and at the ready. To their credit, they generously share contact information about their fact-checking colleagues and post links to academic studies on the fine art of fact-checking.

Ballotpedia fact-checkers boldly list the names and links to the host of fact-checking agencies that are delving into every word that’s uttered – or tweeted – in the ongoing political frenzy. More important, they will continue to keep their penetrating eyes on the state and local data/opinion ball when the dust settles.

The encyclopedia role and scope of Ballotpedia defies explanation and demands exploration. As might be expected, the wise founders of the multi-faceted resource provide a mix of helpful guides including tables, maps, interactive tools and more. As current events permit they also produce and maintain an online library of videos and publish The Ballotpedia Podcast. Needless to say Ballotpedia has a vibrant social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – no doubt the best way to follow the action in the weeks and months to come.

Don’t just dip but delve into the depths of this straightforward, user-friendly, accessible and neutral resource – it will inform you through – and way beyond — Election Season 2016!

 

 

ADA at 25 — Assessing the dream in real time, real lives

 It is not incumbent upon you to finish the job, however, neither are you

free from doing all you can to complete it.   Rabbi R.Tarfon

As an unreconstructed advocate for advocacy I cheer when elected officials “see the light”, when they muddle through the logistics, when they listen to the people, when they rise above personal gain to work for legal justice. And so I rejoice this year as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of passage of the monumental Americans with Disabilities Act. Experience tells us that well begun is just half done – and so we embrace the next challenge.

Legal justice has been done. To a great extent American institutions have followed the requirements as defined by law. We have ramps and bathroom stalls and elevators, a host of highly visible indicators of legal compliance with the law passed a quarter century ago.

And yet we sadly pause to reflect when Tim Benjamin, editor of Access Press, writes that “there is a crisis in the disability community and it been going on for years.”

Benjamin writes with passion about a harsh – and hidden – reality:

Over the years, dependency without support has created a sense of learned helplessness for many in the disability community. Too many people are in fear of not getting any of the care they need if they speak out. For too many, persistent attempts to control the uncontrollable become too difficult. Hope for the right public policies has its limits; wishful thinking about better luck with the next agency or next PCA is not a sufficient strategy. For some, believing there is nothing can be done to change the situation leads to resignation: “This is the way it is.”

What’s so difficult is that there are many people with disabilities who are employed and pay taxes, who are assets to their community, and are now, because of changes in federal health care law, facing the real potential of having to give up their jobs and their autonomy. These rule changes are compounded by a workforce crisis because of low wages and high demand for personal care assistants. If this catastrophe is not resolved, we may see hundreds or thousands of productive citizens having to move from the community into long-term care facilities—where the next catastrophe could occur. “over the years, dependency without support has created a sense of learned helplessness for many in the disability community. Too many people are in fear of not getting any of the care they need if they speak out. For too many, persistent attempts to control the uncontrollable become too difficult. Hope for the right public polities has its limits; wishful thinking about better luck with the next agency or next PC is not a sufficient strategy. For some, believe there is nothing can be done to change the situation leads to resignation.” http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2016/05/10/editors-column-may-2016/

Bottom line, Benjamin asks ”What was the point of the ADA and in Minnesota, the Olmstead Plan, creating laws for community integration, for educational and job opportunities, transportation, accessible facilities and public infrastructure, when people with disabilities don’t have staff to get them out of bed? What were all these millions spent in the first place?”

The fact is, the vast majority of us, know far too little about the physical and political barriers faced by those we do not know or even see in our daily lives. We are disinclined and ill prepared to assess the needs much less to take action.

We leave concerns of people with disabilities to the individuals and their families and to advocacy groups who are immediately involved. If the law needs to be amended, it falls to them. If enforcement of the law is overlooked, we are unaware and politically impotent. We assure ourselves that engagement with the needs of people with disabilities will land us in a complicated legal and regulatory conundrum best left to the “disabilities community.” Besides, aren’t we just this year celebrating that this fight for justice has been won.

The fact is, acronyms notwithstanding, the concerns of challenged colleagues are basic human needs. If we have the will to understand, the tools are at the ready.  A couple of starting points:

  • Or make it a habit to pick up Access Press on free newsstands everywhere. Better yet, subscribe online at http://www.accesspress.org/subscribe/. It’s a great read for anyone who thinks and cares about disability rights, including the inalienable right to access to information.

 

 

 

Minnesotans Roll Out the Red Carpet for Elected Officials from Around the Nation

This post was originally written for and published in Minnesota 2020 8-21-14

If the conversation on Nicollet Mall is politically charged this week, there’s good reason.   Gathered at the Convention Center are several hundred elected representatives from around the nation and the world. All week I have had the opportunity to marinade in the lively presence of attendees at the National Conference of State Legislatures – elected representatives and staff of the fifty states’ very diverse governmental entities as well as an impressive contingent of international visitors.

Though members of the Minnesota Legislature are everywhere, the local press seems to me to be conspicuous by their absence. They and their readers are missing a great story – some highlights:

Most notable, perhaps, is the fact that the gathering is remarkably civil. Elected officials with diametrically opposed political views are managing somehow to respect each others’ opinions, to listen, and to discuss with marked civility. I’ve observed discussions of everything from voter registration to health care to humane treatment of farm animals and found attendees willing, if not eager, to hear our their colleagues’ perspective.

One good example of collegiality happened on Tuesday when the members of NCSL conveyed special honors on former Congressman Martin Olav Sabo, recognized as a founding father of NCSL. Particular mention was made of the Congresman’s work on government transparency, specifically Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law. It was a privilege to hear Mr. Sabo accept the recognition and to commend and further inspire the collaborative approach of NCSL.

Minnesotans starred again on Wednesday when Senator Amy Klobuchar joined Cindy McCain (yes, wife of John McCain) to lay out the facts of sex trafficking in this nation. Mincing no words, they outlined the steps these elected officials might make in their own states, as legislators and as community leaders. Their frank and practical approach was clearly an eye-opener for many attendees.

Minnesota leaders, including Governor Dayton and Mayor Hodges as well as a number of legislators are involved as speakers and panelists throughout the conference. Senate President Sandy Pappas and Speaker Paul Thissen headed up the cadre of Minnesota legislators who.master-minded event planning. It was the legislators who arranged the feature of the conference that stands out in my mind as the crowning glory of the Summit – to wit:

Staffers of the Minnesota Legislature are the omnipresent guides that are making the Summit stress-free! Clad in bright blue shirts, volunteers are everywhere! They are smart, smiling, ready to go the extra mile to guide a lost legislator who may be reluctant to admit that she’s overwhelmed by the cavernous Convention Center. The guides don’t just answer but anticipate the visitor’s question. This congenial, informed squadron of local experts sets a high standard not just for Minnesota Nice but for Minnesota Informed!

 

 

Access Press at 25! A quarter century of serving and reflecting Minnesota’s disabilities community

Access Press is celebrating its 25th Anniversary!  Congratulations are in order – and thanks!   So also is this post which I hope is redundant for many regular readers of this monthly treasure trove of information about the disabilities community. 

The mission of Access Press is “to promote the social inclusion and legal rights of people with disabilities by providing a forum for news, features, opinion and conversation to benefit people who are often invisible and marginalized in mainstream society.”   In truth,  Access Press is really the indispensable window on the world to what’s happening in the disabilities community, a community so robust that it can be difficult to understand if one does not feel a member.  With Access Press, we can all keep up, understand and participate.

Happily, after a quarter century, many Minnesotans have honed the habit of picking up the monthly Access Press – or, better yet, making sure there’s a drop site of the indispensable publication in every possible public space!  In fact, there are approximately 300 sites around the state where, on the 10th of each month, bundles of Access Press are dropped off for free and easy access.  In addition to the printed publication, the paper is produced in audiotape format using a special radio channel for people with visual impairments.   Keeping apace with technology, the articles from each edition are also posted on the Access Press website (http://www.accesspress.org)– or, if you just can’t wait for the 10th of the month, keep up with the print edition by following Access Press on Facebook and Twitter!

For those who have some catching up to do, the 25th anniversary is a good time to look back.  In the May 2014 issue Managing Editor Jane McClure offers a history note that tells the story of the newspaper, tracing the origins of the newspaper from the launch of Access Press on the brink of the vote on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  (http://www.accesspress.org/2014/05/history-note-a-look-back-through-the-pages-of-access-press/)  In fact, every month Access Press carries a History Note, reminding readers of the laws, the issues, and the leaders who have made a difference in the struggle of Minnesotans and Americans at large to create an inclusive community.

The June 2014 issue offers a great review of the legislative accomplishments of the most recent legislative session – issues that include a range from safe schools (bullying) to autism to expanded funding and more,  There’s also a synopsis of what’s coming up on Radio Talking Books and other audio options,  notes on accessible events, even advance notice of the Americans with Disabilities 24th Anniversary Celebration, Friday July 25 at DHS.

Though this is but a snippet of Access Press, it ‘s easy to see why the paper is a must read.   Check out the website for the latest edition of the newspaper and much more, including the story behind The Real Story, a documentary film exploring media coverage of the disability issues in Minnesota.  Produced by Access Press and narrated by Kevin Kling, the documentary explores the biases in media coverage of disability issues in Minnesota and nationally and examines the role of grassroots and mainstream media outlets in reporting on stories important to all people with disabilities. 
 (http://www.accesspress.org/the-real-story/press/)

Tim Benjamin has been Editor-in-chief of Access Press since 2001, assuming the position on the death of Charlie Smith, founder, publisher and long-time editor.  (http://www.accesspress.org/2001/05/welcome-new-access-press-editor-tim-benjamin/)    Tim’s monthly column always offers a thoughtful summary of what’s happening and a reminder for readers to get up and do what needs to be done – to keep up with the news and resources, to learn and understand those who “are often invisible and marginalized in mainstream society”, to share the wealth of information found on the pages of Access Press with friends, family, and colleagues, to take action (e.g. in support of Disability Viewpoints on community cable), and to be certain that Access Press is on the distribution list for events and resources of interest to people with disabilities, their families and organizations who serve the disabilities community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting a Minnesota Spin on National Blueberry Month

Like many creatures of minimal physical stature, blueberries are hardy and nutritionally powerful perennials that have served the health and gastronomic needs of North Americans for some 13,000 years.  Something to ponder as we celebrate July 2013 as National Blueberry Month.

Native Americans enjoyed blueberries year round; they called the berries “star berries” because of the five-pointed star (calyx) formed by the blossom.  Native people carefully dried the summer harvest and added dried berries to stews, soups and a baked pudding they called Sautauthig, a mix of corn meal, water and blueberries; they used blueberries for medicinal purposes and powdered the blueberries to use as a meat preservative.  Legend has it that they shared the secret power of blueberries to help early settlers survive the harsh winters.  Some hold that the native delicacy Sautauthig was on the menu for the First Thanksgiving.

Today’s hardy and ubiquitous blueberry crop is the result of research of two intrepid researchers, Elizabeth White, daughter of a New Jersey farmer, and Dr. Frederick Coville.  The team produced the first commercial crop of blueberries in Whitesbog, New Jersey in 1916.

For today’s shopper blueberries rank second only to strawberries in popularity.  The humble fruit is also repeatedly ranked in the US. Diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings.

Minnesotans have a special fondness for and relationship with blueberries. Though at one time the climate hampered production, research, particularly through Extension Service, has improved the hardiness to the point where commercial production of blueberries is viable.  Of particular note is the fact that the plant’s short stature works as an advantage.

In 1988, the State Legislature, responding to the initiative of third graders in Carlton, MN, designated the Blueberry Muffin as the State Muffin.  The official recipe for the State Muffin is posted here:  http://mn.gov/portal/about-minnesota/state-symbols/blueberry-muffin-recipe.jsp

July is the month for blueberry picking in Northern Minnesota.  There’s berry picking on the Gunflint Trail and berry gathering is permitted in the BWCA , Quetico Park and the Superior National Forest.

Lake George, near Park Rapids, sports a world class Blueberry Festival July 26-28, The three-day event features a blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry ball, and a blueberry square dance.  There is an educational booth with answers to all you ever wanted to know about blueberries.  If that’s not enough there’s a pie sale, a pig roast, and the Firemen’s Bean Feed, along with a quilt show, an arts and crafts show, a flea market and a host of kids’ activities.   On Sunday there is an outdoor Gospel concert and a parade.  Contact info@parkrapids.com for more details.

At Whiteside Park in Ely the 33rd Annual Blueberry Art Festival will take place the same weekend, July 26-28.   There will be 300 exhibitors of original art and handcrafts with a rich array of ethnic foods and children’s events throughout the Festival.  There will also be a stage show each evening.   Contact fun@ely.org.

And take time to read Blueberries for Sal to a special child.  Even if it’s set in Maine it has a Minnesota-like feel that creates the right atmosphere for celebrating National Blueberry Month.