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September 2, 2021
This year's second special session is coming to a close, but the Legislature isn't done for 2021. Before the next special on redistricting and federal funds this fall, we wanted to give legislative updates on a couple of our big issues: changes to special education rules that may affect your student and where we've landed with voting.
CTD’s goal during the regular session and both special sessions was to mitigate the worst parts of any voting bill that created new barriers for the disability community and to get amendments placed in the bill's language that would benefit our community and create better access to the polls. We had some wins and some losses but we played a vital role in many of the negotiations, while continually reinforcing that election measures lose any semblance of integrity when they cross the line into interfering with the reasonable, necessary, and legally protected accommodations for voters with disabilities that have already been in place and working well.
So, after nine months of debate, dozens of hearings, long nights in the Capitol cafeteria, and countless meetings with legislators and their staffs, where did we land? Review the highlights below, or join us Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 2 pm for a Raise Your Voice! Zoom call to review where we are with voting laws (plus a recap of other high profile developments from the last couple months).
Provisions in 2021 Texas Elections Bills that Increase Voter Access
- Mail-in Ballot Tracking. A bill enacted during the regular session created a secure online system to allow voters to track the status of their mail-in ballot applications and mail ballots.
- Mail-in Ballot Cure. SB 1, the omnibus elections bill passed in the 2nd special session, creates a procedure for election officials to notify voters of errors on their mail-in ballots and to provide them with an opportunity to cure the error and have their ballot count.
- Protection for Disability Accommodations. SB 1 contains a provision that was offered as an amendment by Rep. Bucy on the House floor, protecting the ability of voters with disabilities to request and obtain reasonable accommodations and modifications to voting procedures to which they are entitled under state and federal law. We believe this amendment will also help give us the grounds to allow people access to using their signature stamp as a reasonable accommodation.
- SOS Voting Machine Accessibility Training Videos. Sen. Zaffirini was able to include a vital amendment requiring the secretary of state conduct a study regarding the implementation of educational programs, including the production and publication on the Secretary of State's website of instructional videos, to help voters with disabilities understand how to use voting systems used in this state.
Mitigation of Restrictive Provisions in 2021 Texas Elections Bills
These provisions existed in at least one version of the proposed elections omnibus bills (SB 7 and HB 6 in the regular session; SB 1 and HB 3 in the special sessions), but have been favorably amended or are not present in the final version of the bill.
- Proving disability. Early versions of SB 7 would have required voters applying to vote by mail due to a disability to attest to the nature of their disability, potentially revealing confidential medical information just to be allowed to vote. Voters applying for mail ballots for all elections in a calendar year would have been required to attach documentation of their disability from their doctor or a government agency to the application. Both of these provisions were removed in later iterations of the bill.
- Individuals assisting voters required to show ID. Early versions of SB7 and HB 6 would have required individuals assisting voters at polling locations or driving voters for curbside voting to show acceptable voter ID to polling place officials. These provisions do not exist in the final version of SB 1.
- Poll watchers may video record voters in polling locations. Provisions in SB 7 would have allowed voters to record voters in the polling location. Voters receiving assistance were subject to being recorded even while at the voting station completing their ballot. Initially, the bill contained no safeguards on the distribution of images captured at a polling place. Later versions of SB 7 added such safeguards, and SB 1 removed the provisions authorizing video recording altogether.
- Felony prosecution for election officials altering election rules. HB 6 contained a provision that would threaten any election official who altered or modified an election procedure, even to protect the health and safety of voters, with a state jail felony. The threat of felony prosecution for simply assisting voters would have likely had a chilling effect on election official recruitment. The felony provision was amended out of later versions of the omnibus.
You may be asking yourself, are we done yet? And, the best answer we can give you is, we don’t think so! There are already calls for a 3rd special session and more changes to our elections process in Texas, which will be Gov. Abbott's call.
Changes to your student's IEP
When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, many students with disabilities lost services or saw those services put on hold. For some students, access to technology and learning on a virtual platform were significant barriers. Students lost access to education and related services, and many experienced regression in skills. Ahead of the 87th Legislative session, state agencies and lawmakers acknowledged the anticipated need for compensatory educational services for many students with disabilities who lost out.
In response, the 87th Texas Legislature passed SB 89 (Menendez), or the COVID Recovery Bill, to create a COVID supplement to be considered and included as part of each student's individualized education program or plan (IEP).
All Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committees are now required to develop this supplement as part of the IEP to document services that may have been interrupted, reduced, or stopped during the pandemic, and determine if compensatory services are required.
This supplement to the IEP must include:
- Whether the written report of the student’s full individual and initial evaluation was completed, and if it was completed by the date required;
Whether the child's initial IEP was developed, and if it was developed by the date required;
Whether any services in the IEP were interrupted, reduced, delayed, suspended, or discontinued; and
Whether compensatory educational services are appropriate based on this information.
This law applies to both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, and school districts must complete these changes by May 2022.
To learn more about what to expect and how to navigate the school year, check out VELA Families' upcoming courses.
After the success of our 2020 virtual Fest offerings, we're proud to bring you this year's Lost Reel Short Film Showcase, an all online celebration of disability cinema! 10 short films you WON'T see at the October Festival will be available online for 30 days, starting August 16. Plus, we're bringing Lost Reel filmmakers to you, with a series of live filmmaker Q&As!
Tickets to the Lost Reel are free and grant you access to all Lost Reel films from Aug. 16 - Sept. 15 and filmmaker Q&As. Note that our new platform, SparqFest, requires a Google account or Apple ID.
Save the date! Oct. 15 - 16, we're returning to Alamo Drafthouse for the 18th annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival! This event will be live-streamed as well.
LOST REEL & CINEMA TOUCHING DISABILITY
In 2021, we present TWO CTDFF events! First, the Lost Reel Short Film Showcase is open now, through SEPT 15. Join us for this online celebration of disability cinema!
The 18th Annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival will take place OCT 15 & 16 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village (with live stream)!
REGISTER FOR THE LOST REEL
VIRTUAL COURSES FOR PARENTS
Are you the parent of a child with a disability? Do you have questions about special education, therapies, and resources? Want to meet other families like yours? VELA's fall offerings include courses on special education, as well as autism.
Virtual courses meet once a week for five weeks and are free to attend. Register by SEPT 9.
LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
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 SEPT 4
RSVP for OCT 3
Thank you to 2021 sponsor
Thank you to 2021 Cinema Touching Disability sponsors
Mr. Michael Portman
Billy Millwee & Associates
Lynda Frost & Dennis Borel
The DentaQuest Partnership
Easterseals of Texas
Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation
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