Many bills are dead, but still some with a chance

Published Feb. 15, 2010

Last Friday was the deadline for bills to make it out of fiscal committees in their House of Origin. Many bills now sit in the Rules committee, waiting to get pulled to the chamber floor for a vote. Other bills that have already passed their House of Origin are being assigned to committees in the opposite House to go through the process again, starting with public hearings, some of which are scheduled for this week. Tomorrow (Tuesday) at 5 pm is the cut-off for bills to pass their House of Origin.

Revenue - we need it or we’ll see more devastating cuts.

The Economic & Revenue Forecast Council released the latest Revenue Forecast Friday. The February 2010 revenue forecast press release is now available from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The House and the Senate budgets will be released soon, we believe the Senate will release theirs this week and the Hose next week. As each chamber releases its budget we will update our budget side-by-side with the issues affecting those with developmental disabilities.

SSB 6130 was heard in committee on Saturday. Over 400 people attended the hearing in support of the bill that would preserve essential public services by temporarily suspending the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases in Initiative Measure No. 960 through July 30, 2011. This would allow legislators to increase taxes with a simple majority vote instead of cutting more into human service programs. The number of supporters at the hearing outnumbered the number opposed. The bill was passed from the committee.

Advocacy Days advocates help to dispel myths.

This legislative session has had a lot of focus on restructuring the Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC) based on recommendations from a Facilities Closure Study commissioned by legislators last year. The Governor included funding to begin acting on the study’s recommendations. As we get closer to moving individuals with developmental disabilities from the RHCs into community settings, families are facing the fears that change brings. Unfortunately there are some who are using scare tactics to increase the fears the families have with inaccurate information.

Last week advocates delivered information to legislators intended to dispel some of the myths and provide factual information instead. We would never advocate for individuals living in the RHCs to be moved to adult family homes, group homes or boarding homes. People leaving an RHC will be able to choose where they move to. Families can interview and inspect a variety of homes and choose the setting that works best for their loved one.

There are many skilled supported living providers who can provide the intense support these clients will need. There are current openings with supported living providers with well trained staff and they serve many people who have already moved to the community from an RHC.  Additional State Operated Living Alternatives (SOLA) will also be created so that individuals who have lived in an RHC and been served by a long term staff member for many years can move to a SOLA and have their staff member continue to care for them there, thus easing the transition.

In addition to educating legislators about the variety of residential supports families will really be able to choose from, the information stated some of the myths out there and the facts that debunk them. An example is “People with significant medical needs are at a higher mortality risk when moved to community settings.” In response: “Research does not support this claim. Pro-RHC advocates claim 4 deaths were caused from “transfer trauma” after a downsizing at Fircrest. DSHS disputes that and has data which shows that more people die in RHCs than in the community as noted in “Mortality Rates: Residential Habilitation Centers and Community Residential Services.” (DSHS 1/27/2010)”

Another myth is “People in RHCs are in a safer environment than living in the community.” In reality: “The RHCs have safety issues, just as the community can. In 2009 an RHC resident drowned in a bathtub when left unattended, in 2007 a TV station videotaped multiple RHC residents being physically abused by their staff. In 2002 the Justice Dept. reported an RHC using wrist-to-waist shackles on residents. In the community there is more outside oversight, by family, friends and neighbors.

What can you do to help?

Please remember to thank legislators for the work they are doing. They are now working six days a week trying to get as many bills passed as possible before the deadline to have bills out of their House of Origin.

If you still have your scarf, don’t forget to wear it each time you come to Olympia. If you don’t yet have on, try to wear blue colors. Scarves will be handed out to advocates on February 24th to wear at the Independent Living Day Rally. Last year we had over 700 people attend the rally. Our goal this year is to get at least 1,000 people there. Plan to attend on February 24th. Let us know if you need help to make this happen.

Legislators need to hear personal stories from self advocates who have lived in an RHC and now lead fulfilling lives in the community. They also need to hear the personal testimonies from families and guardians who have transitioned a loved one to the community from an RHC. Families of current RHC residents are fearful of the change, but the transition can be made and studies show that almost every individual moved to the community are now happy and glad they made the move, even though they were fearful at first.

Announcements for the Olympia Insider issues, the Olympia Insider Podcasts and Action Alerts are sent via The Arc of Washington State Action E-list. You can sign up there and the e-list makes it very easy for you to let your legislators know what is most important to you. When bills or budget items need emails or phone calls targeted to your legislator you will receive an email with basic information about the issues and a suggested email you can revise or just send that will go directly to your legislator from you with just the click of a button. You can also participate in this process by letters, phone, email and personal visits to ask legislators to make sure that bills or budget items you are most concerned about get heard.

Don’t forget to check The Olympia Insider every week for new podcasts, and to subscribe using iTunes or another RSS tool in order to be notified automatically when something new is posted. Remember you can download these to your video-enabled handheld devices! Episode 7: Respectful Language - Self advocates push for historic legislation that would make Respect the new “R Word.” House Bill 2490 and Joint Memorial 4024 move our state and the nation closer to real change.

Legislators will decide soon if they will raise revenue or make critical cuts to programs families need, change is made by those who show up!

Diana Stadden
Arc of Washington State
Policy and Advocacy Coordinator