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June 22, 2021
Well, we made it. The regular 87th Legislative Session has concluded, and we made considerable progress in our priority areas. Read on for a recap of what we accomplished, plus our plans to prepare for the special session, where we'll once again push back against voter suppression.
Our priorities at the Legislature
As we take a breath from our work at the Capitol this spring, we're taking stock of what our staff and members accomplished in CTD's 2021 priority policy areas. Our full Legislative Report (due out this summer) will have many more details about these and other efforts, but for now, we hope you'll celebrate these victories with us!
Access to Care & Medicines
We come back to this point over and over: when people are able to access the care they need, when they need it, they stay healthier. We're pleased to report that we made great strides in expanding access to medical cannabis and dental care for adults enrolled in Medicaid.
For the past several sessions, Executive Director Dennis Borel has worked on legislation to add a preventative dental benefit for adults with disabilities. In 2017, we got a study; in 2019, a pilot to look at comprehensive dental care; and this year, preventative dental reached the finish line. From February to May, language about a preventative benefit passed through quite a few different bills, from our champions' bills filed at the beginning of session, SB 1152 (Kolkhorst) and HB 3145 (Deshotel), to Kolkhorst's Medicaid omnibus bill, to yet another Medicaid omnibus bill, HB 2658 (Frank). The important take away is that, this fall, the state will prepare for the provision for a preventative visit to the dentist each year for adults in STAR+PLUS non-HCBS.
For Deputy Director Chase Bearden, the care access issue that has come to the fore in recent sessions is medical cannabis. The development of a robust Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) has been incremental, and 2021's HB 1535 (Klick) builds upon previous years' progress. This bill adds PTSD and non-terminal cancer to the list of qualifying diagnoses for participation in TCUP and doubles the legal amount of THC in medical cannabis products. Chase and our team will continue working in this area, but for now, we are encouraged that Governor Abbott signed HB 1535 into law—while just a few short years ago, he was hard NO on any medical cannabis legislation.
Children with disabilities
New to the team this session, but already a heavy-hitter in children's advocacy, Advocacy Director Jolene Sanders-Foster led CTD's work on a range of bills to support toddlers and young children with disabilities, special education students, and their families and educators. Among our wins are two bills that will go a long way to support students in Texas public schools.
A Behavior Intervention or Improvement Plan (BIP) is a component of some special education students' individualized education plans (IEP). The BIP guides educators and staff in identifying, preventing, and responding to behaviors that impact a student’s functional and academic achievement. Currently, BIPs are often only reviewed every three years, which advocates for special education students have long argued is not often enough to best serve the students they were created for. HB 785 (Allen) will amend the education code to improve how BIPs are managed, including annual reviews and mandatory notification to parents about whether BIPs need to be reviewed more frequently. HB 785 also establishes requirements for educators after each use of restraint on a student.
When the pandemic hit and schools were forced to shutter their doors, many students with disabilities lost services or saw those services put on hold as districts pivoted to virtual learning. For some students, access to technology and learning on a virtual platform were significant barriers. Early on in the pandemic, state agencies acknowledged the anticipated need for compensatory services for many students. We are grateful to report that the Legislature responded to this need by passing the COVID Special Education Recovery Act, SB 89 (Menéndez). SB 89 will require a school district to prepare a supplement to include in a student’s IEP regarding whether special services were affected by the pandemic. The supplement documents whether the provision of special services to the child during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year was interrupted, reduced, delayed, suspended, or
discontinued, as well as whether compensatory services are needed.
Both youth and adults with disabilities who enter the criminal justice system have worse outcomes on a variety of measures than their able-bodied peers. Led by our tireless Mental Health Peer Policy Fellow Jennifer Toon, CTD jumped with both feet into criminal justice efforts this session.
Thanks to Jen's and other advocates' work on HB 30 (Talarico), children and young people serving time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will be guaranteed an education. Within TDCJ, there are more than 300 kids who are certified as adults, or between the ages of 18 and 22, who are eligible to receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These students, however, are currently not provided the opportunity to earn a high school diploma, they are only offered a high school equivalency. HB 30 will ensure that minors in the adult system are afforded a full education.
Both in and out of the Legislature, Chase has fought for better accessible parking policy and practices for years—and witnessed many sessions go by with incremental improvements. 2021 was a session with big steps forward! In fact, SB 792 (Campbell) was the first of the bills our staff worked on this session to make it to the Governor's desk. This bill closes a loophole in eligibility for accessible parking placards which had allowed a placard for any veteran with disabled veteran license plates, plus any member of their family, regardless of whether their disability affected their need for an accessible space. For example, a veteran with hearing loss and a veteran with leg amputations could both get a placard, even though only the second individual needs the extra space marked off by the stripes to unload and load her wheelchair. With the support of veterans' groups, Campbell's bill closes this loophole, ensuring that accessible spaces are available to drivers and passengers who really need them.
We imagine you had the sinking feelings about HB 6 (Cain) / SB 7 (Hughes) that we did. This so-called voter integrity bill would have created significant barriers to voters with disabilities (as well as other low-income voters and voters of color). From requiring proof of disability for mail-in ballots, to giving untrained poll watchers the go-ahead to video record anyone they believed was violating the law, to limits on curbside voting, the passage of this bill would have set the civil rights of voters with disabilities back decades.
From our team, Dennis and Chase went all in on working with the bills' authors to mitigate its effects on people with disabilities, as well as coordinating with our partners and the voting rights community to push back against voter suppression efforts in general. Fortunately, the version of SB 7 that a conference committee produced did NOT make a crucial deadline at the end of the session and did not pass.
Make no mistake, this is a victory, but the fight against voter suppression is far from over. Any day now, the Governor is expected to call a special session of the Legislature to return to this issue and pass an "election integrity" bill. What lawmakers come up with could be a marked improvement over SB 7, or it could be even worse. We're re-launching our Raise Your Voice! Zoom calls on Monday, June 28, to prepare and fight back (see below for how to join us).
For now, we encourage you to read the New York Times' coverage of how this restrictive legislation could affect voters with disabilities, featuring our own Susie Angel, Chase Bearden, and Board President Kenneth Semien: G.O.P. Bills Rattle Disabled Voters: ‘We Don’t Have a Voice Anymore’.
Finally, advocacy on state budget appropriations is unfinished business. The staggeringly low base wage for most community attendants did not get one cent, remaining at $8.11 per hour. But we did see funding to slightly reduce the Medicaid waiver interest list, increase access to Hep C drugs, and extend a safe gun storage program. The state landed on the right side of Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) funding, and we backed our colleagues in the autism community to finally get ABA/IBI services covered by Medicaid.
The unfinished business refers to a second special session, likely this fall, to appropriate late federal relief funds, including money designated for home and community based services (HCBS). Expect more Raise Your Voice activities around this issue, once the Governor announces dates.
The Texas Legislature will be re-convening soon, and so will we! Join CTD's advocacy team for the re-launch our Raise Your Voice! (RYV) series to prepare for the upcoming special session on voting legislation (starting July 8!). Voting was a major area of concern to RYV participants through the regular session, and the failure of SB 7 to pass was only a brief reprieve. Join us to continue the fight against voter suppression this summer!
Join us on Zoom Monday, June 28 at 2 pm CT!
Lion & Pirate virtual Open Mic
CTD's Pen 2 Paper creative writing contest, Art Spark Texas, and Malvern Books continue our monthly gathering online. Join us for poetry, music, stories, and more, with featured performances by 2020 P2P winners, Art Spark Texas Artists of the Month, and others!
RSVP for JULY 3
RSVP for AUG 1
Legislative Wrap Up with Easterseals Central Texas
Monday afternoon, July 19, join CTD and Easterseals Central Texas for a Legislative wrap up presentation. Our experts will cover highlights from session, addressing legislation that will impact Texans with disabilities. This training is appropriate for self-advocates, family members, and others. No previous advocacy experience required!
LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
CINEMA TOUCHING DISABILITY 2021
Save the dates! We are gearing up for TWO CTDFF events in 2021!
First, the Lost Reel Short Film Showcase will run Aug. 16 - Sept. 15 (all virtual).
Then, the 18th Annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival will take place IN PERSON Oct. 15 & 16 at an Alamo Drafthouse location to be determined! Lots more to come!
Thank you to our 2021 Raise Your Voice! Sponsors
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