Feb 27, 2010
Oregon has now closed all of its DD institutions. At the Capitol, this remarkable achievement was celebrated with joy and modesty.
It was Wednesday and I knew that I had to be at the state Capitol before 9:00 am. At about that time, I was supposed to give a half hour presentation to the House Human Services Committee about my organization, Disability Rights Oregon. I also had the task of bringing three boxes of materials to place on a table in the Capitol Galleria where folks could look at them. These were booklets about special education law, guardianship law, rules governing seclusion and restraint of school children and a stack of our brochures. It was, you see, an event entitled: Developmental Disabilities Celebration - A Decade of Accomplishments.
I got to Salem with plenty of time to spare. But rather than unpack the boxes, I decided to head into the Capitol to do some last minute preparation. I sat at the back of the hearing room while State Epidemiologist Mel Kohn gave a PowerPoint presentation about the state's smoking cessation program. While sitting there, I decided to talk about the ambitious goal of disability rights to reconfigure the world so that everyone can participate in it. I chose three phrases as vehicles for this idea: 1. "Nothing about me without me." 2. "Want, get, keep." and 3. "Opportunity, Access and Choice." The half hour flew by.
Then, I needed to get back to the car, take out the dolly, and wheel the three boxes of materials into the Capitol. As I did this, I reflected on this aspect of my employment: moving boxes while dressed in a business suit to deliver information to a crowd of developmentally disabled individuals in a state capitol. I don't recall seeing that in the job announcement back in 1986.
While I was setting out the booklets, a guy who advocates at the legislature for seniors and people with traumatic brain injury asked if I would meet with him to chat. I agreed because someone was able to watch my table and the speeches and awards that always accompany events like this would not happen until noon. So I went down to the lunch room to talk to Bill.
We started with small talk and were just about to launch into the topic at hand when over to our table comes Ralph, a union lobbyist. Ralph is a very outgoing guy with one of those short social distances. He put his face about six inches from mine and said: "Did you know Bill was an All-American college baseball player?" The next twenty minutes were given over to teasing out of a very modest Bill that he was indeed an All-American in 1957 at USC, hitting over .360 for his senior year and playing with and for some of the greats of the college game. Ralph said: "I love this. You can take all this lobbying stuff and chuck it. I just love this stuff." Turns out Ralph had a brother who was a pretty good ball player in his day. Modest, too. Just like Bill.
Bill and I finally got down to our conversation about various disability groups working together toward common goals, and then I went off to the noon event. The big accomplishments noted in the title of this event were that Fairview Training Center has been closed for 10 years and Oregon is now the only state that does not have a developmental disability facility or send its citizen to out-of-state facilities. James Toews and Marylee Fay from the Department of Human Services were among those honored. All awards are richly deserved. A former resident of Fairview spoke as did a state legislator and the head of DHS, Bruce Goldberg.
This event happened in a basement hearing room at the Capitol. There are no windows. Lighting is all florescent. For this event, there were not enough chairs and so some folks sat on tables or stood. There were no refreshments. The majority of attendees were individuals with developmental disabilities, family members and providers. The things we celebrated have made a profound difference in the lives of people who have suffered great hardships. Many people have contributed to these achievements and many of them have demonstrated remarkable skill, patience and dedication to the task.
As I stood and watched, I thought back to Bill and his achievements on the baseball field. I thought about his modesty. I thought about the people in a basement room who have brought so much heart, brain and energy to their modest but compelling task. To quote Ralph: I just love this stuff.
Feb 18, 2010
How one community's grieving is another community's threat.
I was at the Maranatha Church in NE Portland last night to see Jesse Jackson and hear what he had to say about the recent killing of Aaron Campbell. I walked in wearing a business suit, snagged the last name tag, and headed to the front area that was reserved for “community leaders.”
As a representative of DRO, I watched the press conference in a side room and then had a front pew seat for the speeches. Sitting next to me was the family of Mr. Campbell. Behind me was a standing room only audience.
Security was light. The mood was a combination of reverence, excitement and solidarity. The music was great. The church leaders provided gentle and amused direction for those who parked their cars in the wrong place or might be tempted to bring in some food. It felt like a welcoming community.
Meanwhile, I didn’t forget about the politics and I know that Jesse didn’t either. There were no elected officials in the audience. Today’s papers made it clear why: Jesse’s most controversial-sounding words were captured in the headlines. This was no mistake. The press and Jackson know the rules of the game. Attention needs to be gotten and this is how you get it.
In the church though, the topic was not controversy. It was community. Reverend Jackson was surrounded on the stage by his fellow senior ministers. They clearly enjoyed and appreciated each other. Jackson seemed remarkably cool and serene during most of the proceedings. That is until an elderly preacher followed Jackson’s speech with an explosion of passionate rhetoric that electrified the crowd and put an animated smile on Jesse’s face.
When Jackson spoke to the press and to the crowd, his first words were to offer comfort and support to the Campbell family. He then spoke about the killing and also about the general condition of black Oregonians. He held a recently issued report, The State of Black Oregon, which documents, in Jackson’s words, that African American Oregonians are “free but not equal.” The statistics in the report bear him out.
Jesse spoke about the killing mainly in the context of respect and dignity. He didn’t speak about whether the shooting was justified but dwelled on reports that the body was left on the ground, in handcuffs for a half hour while dogs sniffed it. He spoke to the desire of every person in the audience to be treated like a human being.
I heard Jackson extol the virtues of compassion, peace, strength in adversity and perseverance. He did not agitate. He supported a grieving community and to suggested positive action for change. He asked individuals to demand justice and an “even playing field,” and also urged people to take responsibility for themselves and their community.
Jackson suggested a path for action: the community, he said, should demand at the officer who killed Mr. Campbell be kept off the job until the police internal investigation was complete. This is hardly the stuff of a firebrand zealot.
But check out the response from Portland Police Sgt. Scott Westerman, president of the Portland Police Association. He said: "… for the Rev. Jesse Jackson to come in last night and to divide the community again and to vilify the officer is a disgrace. I think Rev. Jackson is either ill-informed or has an alternate agenda."
Westerman’s response sums up the problem in this city. What I saw last night was a community coming together with the guidance of respected leaders to grieve and formulate a peaceful and constructive plan of action. What our official police spokesman saw was an outside agitator.
Westerman says that the community should leave the shooter alone and, instead, ask for change in police policies. Westerman’s belated call for policy changes may have merit, but it is buried under yet another insult to the black community. The people I was with last night know who they are and know what their experience is. They also know who is on their side.
Feb 09, 2010
Ds and Rs square off on bill that would extend workers compensation coverage to personal support workers.
Good morning! It’s 8:30 am and we’re back in the House Human Services Committee.
We’ve already heard consideration of bills affecting the sharing of mental health and physical health records among providers and a proposed traumatic brain injury commission. Now, James Toews and Richard Harris from the state Department of Human Services are testifying about the financial cost of implementing HB 3618. This bill would provide workers compensation coverage to personal support workers who serve individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) and with mental illness (MI). Representative Freeman is leading the charge by Republicans who are concerned about the cost of enacting the bill.
Toews testifies that this bill would add about 8,000 new workers to WC coverage who serve about 10,000 individuals. Democratic lawmakers ask if home care is less expensive than institutional care. (Yes) They also ask why this group of workers isn’t covered by the Home Care Commission that provides WC to home care workers for seniors and people with physical disabilities. Toews responds that the DD brokerage system was put together as a result of the Staley law suit settlement which occurred after enactment of the state ballot measure that created the Home Care Commission. The duties of workers who are mandated by Staley have different duties than traditional home care workers.
Rep. Olson is concerned about public access to the names of registered home care workers. Toews says that names are controlled by existing public records law which means that most names must be released to the public. Olson asks if the state does a criminal records check on anyone who asks for worker names. Toews says no. Olson asks if the state feels vulnerable as a result. Toews says it is a matter of general concern. Rep. Dembrow says that the question of problems with Oregon’s public records law is a matter that goes beyond this bill. He asks Toews if he is aware of a person being victimized as a result of having his or her name released. Toews is unaware of such an instance.
Rep. Olson asks how this bill will interact with HB 2442 from last session. This bill beefed up Oregon’s protective services laws and requires exclusion of workers with certain offenses on their criminal record. Toews says more people will be excluded under the combined effects of these bills.
Doug Riggs from Oregon Alliance of Children’s Programs testifies. His providers will suffer a cost impact from this bill and they are already suffering financially. He says the legislature must increase reimbursement for his programs (present funding only covers 60% of cost) if they are to survive. OACP does not oppose the bill’s intent but does not want to absorb additional unfunded requirements. Rep. Tomei says this is a matter for the Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Freeman says that while the Human Services Committee is a policy committee and not a fiscal committee, it should still be concerned about costs.
Next up is a representative from SAIF, the workers compensation provider who is asked about costs of providing coverage to the new population. Representative Maurer takes the lead in questioning about how costs can be controlled. Maurer notes that the state budget is $182 million in the hole according to an upcoming state revenue report. He is concerned about “creating a monster” that will cost the state more than anticipated. Maurer notes the difficulty of assessing claims that occur in family homes when family members are providing services. How, he asks, does SAIF determine when an injury happens on the job or off the job?
Questions continue about who bears the additional costs. Toews notes that provider agencies will not bear the fiscal risk of worker comp claims. Rep. Freeman asks if a disabled child could end up with less services if costs are taken out of money available for those services. The answer is yes.
The committee adjourns for ten minutes to review the bill’s fiscal impact statement. I go plug my meter. When I come back, the committee approves the bill on a party-line vote. The bill will now go to the Ways and Means Committee which will determine if the state can afford to pay for it.
Feb 05, 2010
Testimony is heard on two important bills affecting people with disabilities.
I'm sitting in the House Human Services Committee where the committee just heard testimony on a bill that I can't easily explain but have worked on for the last month. If House Bill 3618 is passed, people who are hired by folks with developmental disabilities or mental illness to provide assistance in the home or community would be registered with the Home Care Commission, receive workers compensation coverage and be allowed to vote to unionize.
My job in the hearing was to explain the latest set of amendments to the bill. I tried to make is as simple as possible but legislative eyes were glazing over. The upshot seemed to be that the Democrats like it and the Republicans don't. It looks like the biggest issue will be the cost of providing workers compensation coverage to the workers.
The committee is now hearing a bill that would set up the Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Advisory Council. Senator Morrisette and Sherry Stock from the Brain Injury Association of Oregon are leading the testimony. Additional testimony from General Mike Caldwell of the Oregon Military Department centers on the epidemic of brain injury that has been experienced by service members coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. General Caldwell notes that early identification and treatment is essential. He adds that the military has ignored the problem of TBI until recently. Things are now changing but the number of affected veterans has overwhelmed VA services.
HB 3692 creates information and referral services and an advisory committee that reaches across all departments of state government. Sherry notes that 80% of homeless individuals have TBI, particularly homeless veterans. Inmates in Oregon prisons are also affected in large numbers. About half of those with TBI acquire their injury through auto accidents. This is why the Advisory Council would be funded from fees charged on traffic violations.
Feb 04, 2010
Are annual legislative sessions all that they're cracked up to be?
The legislature is back in action, meeting for its second "supplemental session." Oregon, as we know, has a biennial legislature: it officially meets every two years. Legislative leaders feel that the state would be better served if we have annual sessions. To test this belief, a short, 2008 session was conducted to handle matters that needed immediate action. Most folks thought it was successful. We are now in the middle of the second trial run.
My initial hit is: so far, not so good. If either Ballot Measure 66 or 67 had failed, this session would have been dedicated to cutting school and human services budgets. Having dodged that bullet, much of the effort is directed to providing relief to those badly hurt by the continuing recession and to pushing through legislation that does not appear to need immediate action, has not had thorough stakeholder participation in its development and are products of insider interests.
Other than actions being taken to provide economic relief, much of this session seems to be given over to paying off political debts and moving pet projects of powerful interests. Legislators seem to be willing to look the other way in this rush to judgment while a large number of bills with emergency clauses (this means they become law immediately upon enactment rather than waiting the usual six month period) get pushed through. Some say: "If there's a problem, we'll fix it in 2011."
I remember that the original argument in favor of annual sessions was that the legislature needed more time to carefully deliberate about important policy matters and proposed legislation. This 2010 session is proving just the opposite. I'm seeing less deliberation and more insider dealing.