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Chicano Latino council focusing legislative efforts on health and education disparities

Budget cuts have forced the Chicano Latino Affairs Council to scale back some of its legislative goals from last year, but the general priorities are much the same, with health care and education in the forefront.

The Minnesota Legislature established CLAC in 1978 to advise both the governor and Legislature on issues affecting the state’s Latino community. I recently spoke with Rosa Tock, the council’s legislative director, about key issues, and here are some of the highlights:

MinnPost: How have CLAC’s priorities changed from 2008?

Rosa Tock: They are very similar. On health care, things are a little bit different, based on the health care reform that passed last year. And there are some new priorities in higher education. We asked the Legislature to support the renewal of flat tuition rates.

[The 2007 Omnibus Higher Education Bill made tuition rates the same for resident and non-resident students at several public colleges and universities, but those provisions are set to expire in June.]

MP: Can you talk about why flat tuition rates are important?

RT: There’s some confusion; people think that it’s only for immigrants or undocumented immigrants, but that’s not the case. They have one tuition rate for all students, whether they come from other countries or from other states.

This is one way to eliminate barriers preventing more students from different nationalities from accessing higher education. And then it can also motivate talented students to make Minnesota their home and be part of the workforce of Minnesota, and compensate for the workforce that is retiring in the next 12 to 25 years. So that’s one way to stimulate Minnesota’s economy.

MP: What are some other legislative priorities for 2009?

RT: One of the messages was in regards to how do we make sure that the budget deficit and the budget cuts are not going to hurt the safety net.

We are talking about, for example, continue supporting state funding for the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative: that the Minnesota Department of Health has through the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, which has funds to close the gaps for health disparities of people of color.

Another priority for the council and for Latinos in general is to close the achievement gap and the educational disparities. We’re advocating policies that address that, like having an academic achievement plan for school districts. And preserving funds for ESL [English as Second Language] programs — there are more students on waiting lists to get enrolled in ESL programs, and the programs are not sufficient; that seems to be the trend.

MP: You released the 2009 legislative agenda last week with a Latino Legislative Day at the Capitol. What was the main goal of that event?

RT: It was to provide a venue for Latinos to express themselves and see for themselves how the legislative process works and how they can be more engaged civically with policy makers.

The main goal was to invite the Latino community to come to the Capitol and have each voice heard, and to meet with lawmakers, policymakers and legislators in these three areas of pre-K 12 education, higher education and health care.

MP: Was the event successful?

We had very good participation from members of the community. Around 200 people showed up. We were expecting around 150, so our expectations were kind of more than met.

Our two Latino legislators [Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and Rep. Carlos Mariani] were there, but also [Sen.] Larry Pogemiller, [Sen.] Jim Vickerman and [Rep.] Al Juhnke. We had politicians from urban areas and those representing greater Minnesota, so we had a pretty good combination. That was very positive.

We had scheduled meetings with either the chairs or vice chairs of committees on education and health care, and in general it worked pretty well, but they are very busy so some of them had to either cancel or postpone it because they had other meetings that came up.

What was your reaction to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal released Tuesday?

RT: I didn’t have the chance to go through the proposal in detail yet, but what I’ve seen is that there is a compatibility with what he previously said in regards to his priorities in trying not to cut K-12 education programs and making sure to improve the education system.

In terms of the safety net, health and human services, I haven’t been able to take a look at that, but according to other sources, there have been cuts. I guess that it’s going to be a very interesting debate with the Legislature.

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