Olympia Reporter 1/22/18
Published Jan. 22, 2018
A fast-paced 2018 session has started!
This is a supplemental legislative session. That means that last year was the session in which legislators came up with and finalized a 2-year Operating Budget for the state to fund programs and services such as education, human services and other parts of government. This session, the legislature only needs to update that budget with corrections that need to be made. For instance, the fire season in our state was much worse than expected so the legislature needs to find additional funding to pay for that unexpected overage. Another big driver of last year’s budget was the McCleary decision, in which the state was found by the Supreme Court to be underfunding its responsibility. For this session, the court says that the legislature did much better with its funding plan, but is still a year behind where it should be.
In addition, the state needs to pass a Capital Budget, which funds building projects the state needs to pay for, but which did not get passed last session. Building or remodeling schools as well as a variety of state government projects have been on hold for the last year because the legislature could not come to agreement on the passage of a key court decision regarding water rights. In 2016, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling on water conservation, known as the Hirst decision. Counties became responsible for assessing water availability before issuing permits for the drilling of small wells. Because these assessments can cost more than $5,000 each, this left some property owners (mostly rural areas) without water or unable to build their homes on their property. This session, the legislature reached agreement and passed the Capital budget in less than 2 weeks.
For people with developmental disabilities, the capital budget has two key funding projects. The Housing Trust Fund provides money for the construction, acquisition or rehabilitation of a specified number of housing units every year, creating rental and homeownership opportunities throughout the state. The DD Set-aside amount is $2,150,000. In addition, Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC) have been in need of funding for a new roof at Rainier School ($600,000), Infrastructure Upgrades at Lakeland Village and work on the Fircrest master plan ($200,000). There is much controversy over maintaining these old building for less than 700 people versus putting the money into community residential for the 43,000 people in the community that the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) serves.
See the capital budget: (http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/Budget/Detail/2018/ccSummary_01195.pdf).
Failing Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC)
Another unexpected operating budget need that is of concern to people with intellectual/ developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families is the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s (CMS) annual reviews of the Residential Habilitation Centers (our state institutions for people with DD), which continue to fail and require millions of dollars. DDA has requested more than $24 million from the legislature to try to address the problems, but that is only a start. Two of the RHCs now have part of their facility decertified by CMS. In order to get recertified, the state must get
From 1970 on, the institutional population steadily declined from over 4,000 people to 697 today. Several factors contributed to this decline. The most important change is the realization that, with intervention, people with developmental disabilities grow and develop and are capable of achieving major developmental milestones. Community resources have been developed, schools are required to include children with disabilities and medical information and practices have improved dramatically. All these factors help parents keep family members home and help them gain access to alternative services near their family homes.
In Washington State, there are four RHCs; Yakima Valley School is a skilled nursing facility, Rainier School is an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF), Fircrest School and Lakeland Village have both. They are called schools for a reason: they were created as a place for children with I/DD to go learn skills such as getting dressed, sewing, farm chores, etc., then return home. Over the years, parents were encouraged to leave their children at the RHC and move on with their life and now residents, their family members and guardians consider the RHC to be the client’s home.
However, in recent years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has re-emphasized the “intermediate” aspect of institutional care. They have told our state “it is the responsibility of the RHC not to house and protect people, but rather to be actively preparing them for leaving the RHC and integrating into the community.” This means that staff should be providing “active treatment” to the RHC clients, something they keep being found to not be doing.
Although the legislature has commissioned more than 40 studies of the RHC over the years, not much happens, regardless of any recommendations. Recently though, Disability Rights Washington (DRW) has compiled findings from CMS surveys and created two reports detailing the unacceptable abuse, neglect and death rates that are happening at the RHCs. You can read the two reports, “No Excuses” and “No More Excuses”, at www.disabilityrightswa.org/reports).
To see the Operating Budget side-by-side with the Governor’s proposal for DD services, check out our web site at http://arcwa.org/takeaction and look for the Budget Side-by-side link under “Legislative Issue Papers”.
Bills of Interest – new, old and new/old!
In a supplemental session, most bills that died from the previous session are reintroduced in the last committee they didn’t make it out of. For example, HB 2414 is a bill that would improve language access for public school students and families who speak limited English. Last session, this bill did not make it out of House Appropriations before the cut-off date, so the bill died. Now it has been reawakened in the same committee to try to make it through the process this year.
We also have new bills introduced this session that must start at the beginning of the process and try to get through all the required steps needed to pass. This can be challenging in a short session when many bills from last session and new ones from this session are all trying to get scheduled for a public hearing in their House of Origin policy committee, then in the fiscal committee if they need funding to implement them, pass on the chamber floor (be voted on by all members), then make it through whole process again in the other House.
Something unusual we are seeing this year is that some of the bills from last session are being introduced with a brand new bill number. This means they start at the beginning of the process but if they didn’t go far last session, that doesn’t matter so much. HB 2658 is the bill to keep perfluorinated chemicals, called PFAS chemicals, out of fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags. Last year the bill was HB 1744, but it never made it out of the House Environment committee. This year, it not only has a new bill number, but it has a Senate companion bill, SB 6396, giving it twice the chance to pass.
What can you do now?
Make sure you are signed up on our Action Network so you can stay informed and respond if action is needed. Attend Advocacy Days, meet with your legislators, call their office or send them an email. You can even look them up on Facebook and Twitter.
Our bills of Interest and the Hearing Schedule are updated weekly on our web site. If you see a bill that is really important to you, it would be a great experience for you to attend the hearing in person and let the committee members know why you want the bill to pass or not pass. Let us know if you would like assistance to do this.
You can always find the updated lists for budget proposals, bills and hearings at http://arcwa.org/takeaction, just click on Legislative Issue Papers and scroll down to the topic you want to see. These are pdf documents that you can download and print.
2018 Advocacy Day Schedule - Working in Harmony!
Advocacy Day begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays during the legislative session. We start with an hour and a half briefing on current issues and end with an afternoon of advocacy. While we feature a highlighted topic each week, the morning briefing will also cover late breaking news on budget items and bills of interest relating to individuals with developmental disabilities. If you need a guide for the day, please let us know by calling 1-888-754-8798, ext. 5, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
January 24th - Supported Living Services
Self-advocates, supported living providers as well as family members and others join to let legislators know how important living in the community is and ask them to put budget dollars into community services, not institutions. We will meet at United Churches at 10 am in partnership with the Community Residential Services Association (CRSA).
January 31st—Self-Advocacy/Disability Pride
Self-advocates will lead the way on some issues for the 2018 session that help them live in their community as independently as possible and show their pride in being valued members of society. They have three priorities they are pursuing this session: 1) closing state institutions and building community services; 2) having real jobs with real pay (not sub-minimum wages); and 3) providing supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship.
February 7th - Family and Multi-Cultural Services
Families provide the majority of care for people with DD, saving our state lots of money and helping individuals be participating members of their local communities. Parent to Parent, local chapters of The Arc, Parent Coalitions and Open Doors for Multi-Cultural Families will share what this means for you. We encourage parents to come to this meeting and bring your children with you. Legislators need to understand the needs of all cultures to ensure DD services meet everyone’s needs. At 1:00 the WeeCare Coalition will have a rally on the Capitol Rotunda.
February 14th—Disability Protections
This session we have a number of protection issues being raised: toxic chemicals in fast food wrappers, flame retardants in children’s electronics, protection from institutionalization due to lack of sufficient resources in the community, supported decision-making, and more.
February 21st—Transition to Employment Pays!
Having a job means that individuals with DD can be productive citizens, contributing to our economy by paying taxes while also providing valued services. It’s important that the transition programs in high school for those ages 18-21 provide services help students leave the program with a job (School to Work). After the meeting at the United Churches, head over to the capital for the Employment Rally in the Rotunda.
February 28th—Budget Overview
Legislators are required to do one thing during this legislative session: create and pass a supplemental budget. Our services may go in as a line item in the budget or as a proviso. It is important that you educate your legislators about the budget needs of people with DD. Learn what services and supports are proposed for cuts or increases and what you can do to help.
March 8th—Take Notes!
As the supplemental session is coming to a close, legislators are spending most of their time on the House or Senate floor voting on bills. You still have a huge job to do! Many bills never get a chance to be voted on, not because they aren’t important, but because there is not enough time to vote on all of them. You can help move your bills up in importance by sending notes in to your legislator while they are on the floor. We can help!
DON’T FORGET TO WEAR YOUR BLUE SCARF THIS YEAR!
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