Minnesota lawmakers consider task force for health care worker eligibility

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Under current Minnesota law, some people who want to work as licensed or certified health care workers are automatically disqualified because of a felony conviction.

Now, a proposed bill would create a task force to study possible changes to that law giving some non-violent felons the possible opportunity to work at jobs such as a medical assistant or personal care attendants.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid attorney Ron Elwood told a legislative committee his organization supports creating the task force that does not have a fiscal note attached to it yet.

“Workers in this field are disproportionately low-wage workers, workers of color and Legal Aid clients,” Elwood said. “We have seen too many instances where, based on current law, would-be workers who we can show are deserving are actually disqualified.”

Todd Gramenz, with Black Lives Matter, told the committee that giving people a second opportunity to serve others, after bettering their own lives, is critical toward helping convicted felons build a productive career.

“For example, someone who is a PCA is being blocked from licensing from something like a drug charge,” Gramenz said. “So, something that was a non-violent offense, but it has also hindered the working livelihood of many people.”

The bill’s author, Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, told the committee the need to create a task force to reexamine the current state statute governing health care worker disqualifications is long overdue.

The study group would include law enforcement officials and county attorneys.

“We took this approach knowing that this is a controversial issue,” Edelson said. “There are definitely parts of the current state statute that are here to protect people and that we must absolutely keep them there. But there are parts of the current statute that create massive barriers and don’t necessarily protect public safety.”

The bill was moved to an omnibus bill for future consideration when the Health and Human Services budget is approved later in the legislative session.