People on the Go Maryland

 

Developmental Disabilities Day 2017 in Annapolis by Mat Rice

On February 23, 2017, the annual Developmental Disabilities Day rally was held at the Loews hotel in downtown Annapolis. This is an event where once a year during the Maryland legislative session, advocates from the developmental disabilities community, providers, families, and legislators come together to talk about key legislative issues that affect the lives of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in the state of Maryland. 

This year, there were a record-breaking 725 attendees from all over Maryland.  Advocates got a chance to hear about the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) budget, which funds services such as assistance for youth who are making the transition from school into adult services at age 21. The budget also provides funding for services that help people with disabilities who are involved with the court system as well as funding for people on DDA's waiting list who are in crisis. Advocates also learned about legislation such as the James Hubbard higher educational legislation SB 872 and House Bill 971, which is legislation which would set aside $250,000 for the establishment of inclusive post-secondary educational programs so that people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities can pursue postsecondary educational opportunities alongside people without disabilities.

Other legislative topics discussed were the emergency evacuation bill House Bill 1061. This bill requires the formation of a task force to study inadequacies in the emergency evacuation plans of schools for people with disabilities whether they are students, family, staff, or visitors.  This legislation came about after a parent advocate whose child is served by The Arc expressed concerns about the inadequacies of emergency evacuation plans for her child. Emergency evacuation plans are not often written down formally in a child’s IEP, nor have schools been consulting with disability experts and advocacy groups about the needs of persons with disabilities in emergency situations.

Next on the legislative list are House Bill 331 and Senate Bill 786 covering Behavior Intervention Plans, Physical Restraint and Seclusion. The purpose of this legislation is to restrict the use of restraint and seclusion in schools and to ensure that when restraint or seclusion is employed, that it is done with careful monitoring by staff that have been trained for that purpose. The bill also emphasizes things like positive behavioral reinforcement as well as requiring the Maryland State Department of Education to track how often restraint or seclusion is used for children with disabilities.

Rachel London of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council also provided a key overview of more pieces of legislation that affect children with disabilities. After all of the legislative presentations were complete, we heard from key legislators that are responsible for making key budgetary decisions within the General Assembly. I had the honor of introducing Delegate Maggie Macintosh, who chairs the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. We also heard from Senator Mac Middleton, who chairs the senate finance committee. All of the legislators that we heard from stated their commitment to the restoration of the 3.5% rate increase which was mandated by the general assembly in 2014. The governor’s proposed budget for this year would have reduced the mandatory 3.5% rate increase to a mere 2%. This means that eventually direct support staff risked falling below minimum wage.

That brings us to the governor. We were truly privileged to have Governor Larry Hogan in attendance at DD day. He stated that a strong intellectual and/or developmental disability community helps make Maryland strong. The message was clearly sent to the governor that while we appreciate all of the great things in his budget that further the lives of people with disabilities, without proper funding to keep our direct support staff above minimum wage, none of these things can happen. Mr. Richard Dean, the president of The Arc Maryland board made this point quite eloquently when he introduced the governor. He spoke about the challenges that his two daughters face on a daily basis and his wish that they continue to live inclusive lives within their community.

Finally this brings us to the crisis resolution legislation House Bill 984/Senate Bill 475 which was heard on Developmental Disabilities Day after the event at the hotel. This legislation would have mandated $3 million a year to get people out of the crisis resolution and crisis prevention categories on DDA’s waiting list. I testified on behalf of People On the Go in support of the legislation. I stated that the legislation is important in order to assure Marylanders who are on DDA’s waiting list in these categories that they will in fact receive services and be able to have some peace of mind as to what the future holds for them. POG has had many advocates who were in these categories at one time and they expressed the fear that they had that they would not get the services and supports they need. The Senate Finance Committee simply could not understand the necessity of this type of legislation when DDA has funds they are not spending and eventually have to give back to the federal or state government. It’s not hard to see the Finance Committee’s point of view on this manner. I think what is clear is that no matter what the issue is, whether it’s crisis resolution or one of the other issues we have touched upon, Developmental Disabilities Day continues to be important because it sends a clear message to our legislators that people with disabilities, their providers, and staff care about the future of the disability community in our state and we are not going away.