Recent conversations with the editorial board highlight the end-of-session tangle that has become the norm at the Minnesota Capitol.
Advocates hone arguments, build support and are left to hope for the best as the days tick by and the legislative deadline — now less than a week away — looms.
We’ve seen it before: last-minute, behind-closed-doors dealmaking and tradeoffs, omnibus bills stuffed with unrelated items, bleary-eyed lawmakers voting on bills they have no time to read.
Navigating that environment are two measures — championed by folks from St. Paul and the east metro — that deserve a closer look:
Former St. Paul City Council Member Tom Dimond is concerned about legislation he says would make it harder for veterans in need in the Twin Cities to get the so-called “skilled care” or nursing home services they need.
Dimond, legislative director of the DFL Veterans Caucus, argues that there is a disparity in the availability of skilled-care beds that puts veterans in the Twin Cities at a disadvantage, compared with those in parts of Greater Minnesota.
He argues against tying up the limited allocation of skilled-care beds by building new facilities outstate — far from where the greatest need exists. A better approach, the Vietnam veteran suggests, would involve state bonding — borrowing — for maintenance of existing facilities and upgrades to out-of-commission buildings on the campus of the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis.
Addressing the need in the Twin Cities region would reduce long wait times and the situations in which veterans are placed in facilities hundreds of miles away from family and friends. News reports last week included the story of a veteran, reportedly struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, who drowned in the Mississippi River at St. Cloud after being rejected for treatment at a veterans’ facility there.
This session, Dimond has worked to raise concern about provisions now folded into an omnibus bill in the House. That placement — where a measure of interest is one among many on hundreds of pages — makes the process much harder for advocates to follow, he told us.
The bonding request for $6.6 million would provide space for regional law-enforcement training to help officers respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis. The measure is the top priority at the Capitol this year for Dakota County, which would match the state funds with dollars from its own budget.
To us, the strongest argument for the proposed 35,000-square-foot Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training Center in Inver Grove Heights is clear:
With broad bipartisan support, the Legislature in 2017 made a significant commitment — $6 million a year — to police training, including such topics as crisis intervention, mental illness and conflict management. The state now should assure that it’s delivered efficiently.
The facility would provide a centrally located regional hub for training officers from across the metro area.
It also would provide a permanent home for the nonprofit that provides the specialized training, advocates explain, and would serve as a central location for such regional resources as the county’s Electronic Crimes Unit.
The measure has bipartisan support from members of the Dakota County legislative delegation, as well as key mental health advocates. Among them is Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness in Minnesota, who emphasizes the importance of helping officers and other first responders “build trust and connect” with individuals who need help.
The measure is included in the House bonding bill but not in the Senate’s. Hope rests with its inclusion in the package that results from final negotiations.
Twists and turns abound in the legislative thicket. Cutting through it shouldn’t be as hard as it is.