By TOM LAVENTUREAAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (July 6, 2015) — The state Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans will host its 2015 Legislative Session Recap for Asian Pacific Minnesotans on Saturday, July 18, 2015, from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. at the Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 East Ivy Avenue, Saint Paul, 55106.
A round table discussion with Metro Area legislators and CAPM staff will explore the policy issues of special interest during the previous legislative session. The recap is to inform the community about key outcomes and to further strengthen direct communication between residents and legislative representatives andy engage in the policy-making process.
“With Tran Nhon as chair, this was an exceptional year for the council with the kind of influence and presence that I think are necessary for the council to be healthy,” said CAPM Executive Director Sia Her. “During this session the chair and the governance committee were active at capitol and meeting and engaging with legislators.”
General discussion will include K-12 and higher education, health and human services, jobs and economic development, public safety, veterans affairs, and housing. Discussion on specific CAPM legislative work will include the new Enabling Statute for Minnesota’s ethnic councils of color, and gender-based violence in APIA communities.
Current priorities include gender-based violence in the APIA community. The domestic violence issue is being addressed in the mainstream context but the solutions make it difficult to help the various APIA communities and especially new Americans.
The community organizations have long made a cry for help on this issue and through the council are working with legislators and the state Department of Health. After a meeting where nearly 50 victims shared their stories with the Commissioner or Health, Her said the MDH responded by meeting with community leaders about how this issue is effecting victims and families.
Her said that it was State Rep. Karen Clark (62A-Minneapolis) who said it was time to enact legislation and the council helped to draft legislation to help.
“We though it could have really advanced but the bill died a quick death after it was introduced at the time when the OLA report came out and the councils of color were under lot of criticism,” Her said. “We testified to the bill and were asked more questions about the OLA than the bill.”
This year’s bill resulted in passing a bill to start a two-year study on the prevalence of gender based violence of APIA communities in every county. The funding was scaled down from the $500,000 request to $200,000. This will curtail some of the detail to a matter of scale, but Her said it is still more money than has been spent on most other comparable community gender based violence studies of its type.
There will be outreach and personal interviews along with online surveys. The intent is to recognize this issue as it occurs in each community, how each one frames the issue, and how victims seek help and where the support and resistance comes from with attention to language but also to the sensitivities and cultural contexts.
“It manifests itself in many forms from one ethnic community to another,” Her said. “When talking about gender based violence it has been like airing dirty laundry to some, and this is making a step forward saying they (the victims) have not been seen, heard or responded to and the council’s job is to create a platform for the community to step forward and tell their stories.”
The APIA community has its own characteristics and this is important to understand when explaining the problems and outlining the solutions, she said. For one, it remains a relatively patriarchal community and victims are often discouraged from leaving the situation.
Current programs require victims to show chronic hardship, poverty or homelessness in order to qualify for help, she said. APIA victims are more likely to depend on friends and relatives and not place themselves in a chronic homeless or shelter situation and yet they need the resources to gain stability for their families and move forward.
The council championed a pilot transitional housing bill which asked for $2.5 million that would offer Section 8 to APIA women with children coming out of an abusive domestic situation. The victims would get the voucher after screening through nonprofits and it would cover 30 percent of rent for up to two years.
“It did not pass,” Her said, who called it a partial victory for the council’s work in getting the bill as far as conference committees before being cut from the House Omnibus bill – further than any previous effort on this extremely sensitive issue.
“I think it was about educating policymakers,” Her said. “This is the second year and what is needed is more time to more strategically advice policymakers about the community.”
The next time around the council intends to bring more members of the community who are willing to share their stories publicly, Her said. With the aid of the report once completed, should the findings and recommendations be consistent with the testimony, the council can say that as a state government it is appropriate to do something to help at this time.
The council also spoke in favor of the Universal Pre-K bill, increasing the level of language support at voting stations, and testified against eliminating Minnesota Care.
The council supported the Hmong/Lao veterans memorial effort on the state capitol grounds, which was passed after several years with this year’s bill from State. Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-67). A similar effort is moving forward for Khmer and Vietnamese veterans.
Restructured Councils of Color
It was touch and go for a few months but the state Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans will continue to play its role to advise the governor and legislature with a board and staff. Effective July 1 the organization is restructured under a new statute that defines the Minnesota councils of color, which include CAPM, the Council on Latino Affairs, Minnesota African Heritage Council.
The council will continue with a small state agency budget under $400,000. It will fund the executive director, a research director and legislative liaison and office manager.
Her, in a recent phone interview, said that without the support of legislators introducing alternate bills the fate of the councils of color may have gone the way of elimination with a new Office of Minority Affairs to replace them, or to require that state agencies establish advisory groups to focus on disparities.
“I don’t believe that cutting the councils all together makes sense,” Her said. “I don’t believe in eliminating the boards. They are places where members of the community can step up and they have a role to play in the governance of the council.”
The boards bring a credibility for the community voice than cannot be replicated until such a time as the communities in general know how to access the system and add their voices directly on the issues and legislation as it impacts them, she said. Someday the day may come when the councils are no longer needed as an advocate or a bridge, and that is a council vision, but that day has not arrived.
The decision to make the executive director and staff accountable to the LTC and not to the board directly was appropriate, Her said, given that the board are not state employees and although will have a say in matters it would not conduct hiring or performance evaluations.
The councils boards will now be comprised of 15 members. CAPM had been authorized 23. The Governor appoints 11 members, and 4 members are legislators (one from each caucus).
The current CAPM Board Members include the Chair, Tran Nhon (Vietnamese), David Maeda (Japanese), George Thaw Moo (Karen), Melissa Kwon (Chinese), Tsewang Ngodup (Tibetan), A.S. Liyanapathiranage (Sri Lankan), Hoeun Hach (Cambodian), Mukthar Thakur (Asian Indian), Hue Danny Lee (Hmong), and Shanti Shah (Asian-Indian).
“We are very fortunate to have great executive committee and the board as a whole is phenomenal,” Her said.
The four non-voting legislative appointees include Sen. Foung Hawj, Sen. Alice Johnson, Rep. Carolyn Laine, and Rep. Rod Hamilton. The legislative members were crucial in not only helping to educate others on the importance of the council, the assisted in advocating the CAPM legislative agenda on both sides of the aisle, Her said.
“These are the advocates you want for a council,” Her said. “I cannot emphasize enough how critical they have been to the transition and rebirth of the council as it relates to policy work.”
A board member may now serve a maximum two terms totaling eight years. A board member will be dismissed for missing more than one-half of regularly scheduled meetings, failing to attend required trainings, and if three of four legislative members vote them out.
Tran Nhon and four other board members have reached the end of their eight year terms and are stepping down at the end of December. There are nine board applications going through consideration now that the fate of the council is decided with the new statute.
The councils executive director and staff are now appointed and responsible to the Legislative Coordinating Commission. They had previously been appointed and answerable to their respective boards.
The mission of the councils are to advise the Governor and the Legislature on issues and the changes needed to improve the economic and social condition of the constituency. The councils also serve as a liaison between state government and organizations.
The restructuring resulted from legislation that followed a 2014 report on the councils of color from the state Office of the Legislative Auditor. The audit started prior to the hiring of Sia Her as the executive director in 2014.
The LCC now appoints the council executive directors. The council boards had until now appointed executive directors and the audit saw this as a problem in that the board members are not state employees but appointed volunteers.
Her agreed with the audit’s finding that the council had strayed from its intended purpose. She said the council can no longer be involved with running community events like the Dragon Festival, and will be focused on its mission and objectives.
The OLA report was accurate in noting that the language of the statute was not clear in its intent for the council’s purpose as a state agency to advise and on policymaking, Her said. It was not the objective and board attendance was another problem along with timely appointments and reports.
Minnesota has a $42 billion budget and the council needs to be involved in representing the community in the policymaking process, Her said. It is a misunderstanding of this role that has led the community to believe the council exists to organize festivals, and with community criticism of the legislature for taking action to restructure the council, she added.
“It was my impression as the executive director for the past two years that the council was not doing what it should be doing,” Her said. “We spent a lot of time and state resources on the Dragon Boat Festival, and while I understand the history and import role the council plays; in reality we were doing much more than we should be doing and it took away from the other things we were not doing as a result.”
The nonprofits can take the lead on the festivals and cultural events while the council works on behalf of the community as its voice at the table where there it has not had a strong enough presence to advocate on its own on matters of interest, she said.
Studies and surveys are central to council responsibilities. Her said the council in-between legislative sessions when the council is actively participating in the policymaking process, they organize community engagement sessions in the Twin Cities and all over the state.
The smaller and more isolated APIA communities around the state need to be included in the surveys, she added. The meetings are often the only chance that their state representatives have to meet with their elected officials.
“We ask input on the issues of the day and what they are experiencing so they can be used to guide our work in legislative session,” Her said.
The survey information and how it is accumulated and measured are used to formulate recommendations for the various bills he council is advocating for or against. It is for the purpose of legislation and not an arm of the community nonprofits or cultural work, she said.
“We are engaging communities in a different manner and with different purposes,” Her said.
The Council will hold its next regular Board Meeting on July 16, 2015, starting with a community forum at 5 p.m., followed by the regular business meeting at 5:30 p.m., in the Ladyslipper Room, of the Centennial Office Building, 658 Cedar Street, Saint Paul, MN 55155. The public board meetings take place on the third Thursday of every other month unless notified otherwise. The next Board meeting is scheduled for September 17, 2015.