Federal judge rejects plan for Minnesota disability reform

Published 9:29 am Monday, September 22, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has rejected a state plan designed to reduce the segregation of people with disabilities, saying the plan was too vague and lacked measurable goals.

The plan, long a priority of Gov. Mark Dayton, was meant to help eliminate barriers to housing, jobs and education for people with mental or physical disabilities. But U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said Thursday that even after a number of revisions, it still has “significant shortfalls.”

His ruling means the Dayton administration and several state agencies must revise the report by Nov. 10, an undertaking likely to be a political challenge because it could involve costs to taxpayers.

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The state agreed in 2011 to create the plan. The goal was to give people with disabilities every chance to work and live in circumstances where they’re not segregated from non-disabled people.

So officials from eight state agencies — including the education, health and transportation departments — held a series of discussions.

A subcommittee held listening sessions across the state, collecting input from national experts, disability advocates and others. The state then submitted its initial plan to the federal court in 2013.

However, the plan was criticized from the outset by disability advocates who said it had plenty of positive statements but not enough measurable goals. For example, in the area of employment the plan lists one goal as “expanding opportunities for adults with disabilities” but it doesn’t offer any means of specific measurement.

Lucinda Jesson, the commissioner of the state Department of Human Services, said she was “troubled and disappointed” by Frank’s decision, noting that a federal court monitor had already recommended that the plan be approved.

“I believe what we submitted to the court really does represent a good blueprint for moving the state forward,” Jesson said.

Mary Fenske, a volunteer disability-rights advocate and mother of a disabled adult son, said she was glad the judge was holding the state to high standards of performance.

“It’s terrific that the judge is holding the state’s feet to the fire,” the Maple Grove woman said. “The state is big on writing these studies and plans and, all too often, they just go poof in the air.”