Jan 18, 2013 Legislative Highlights

On Thursday, House Bill 1844 was approved by the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions. The bill has had its “first reading” in the full House. This bill is in furtherance of the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy’s move out of state government to a private nonprofit organization. It eliminates or updates certain code references and provides for the transfer of records and physical property to the new organization.

If you know of a bill or a budget item of particular interest to people with disabilities, please let VOPA know about it. You can email us at general.vopa@vopa.virginia.gov or you may call us at 1-800-552-3962. VOPA is tracking several bills that affect the rights of people with disabilities. This is a partial listing of bills we are watching, organized by subject matter:

Voting Rights
Mental Health and Mandatory Outpatient Treatment
Education and Special Education
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Assisted Living Facilities
Guardianship
Community Integration
Health Care Reform
Voting Rights

A House subcommittee of the Privileges and Election Committee killed a series of bills that would have made it easier for people to vote absentee or vote early. Likewise, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections killed a number of bills that might have made it easier for people with disabilities and others to vote. However, there is one bill that has been approved – SB 967 – that eliminates the requirement that people with disabilities provide details about their disability in order to get an absentee ballot.

These bills were “passed by indefinitely” by the House subcommittee:

HB 1353 (Morrisey), HB 1361 (Scott, JM) , HB 1520 (Villanueva), HB 1922 (Herring), HB 1937 (Lopez) – would allow for absentee voting for any reason.

SB 743 (Miller) was killed in the Senate committee. It would have allowed for electronic absentee voting.

These voting bills are still under consideration:

HB 1337 (Cole) – eliminates some forms of identification that can be used as proof of ID at the polling place.

HB 1471 (Watts) – Allows residents of ALFs to vote absentee.

HB 1599 (Anderson) – Allows for a pilot program of “voting centers” instead of polling places for use in primary elections. This would essentially consolidate several polling places during the primaries, which are often elections of low voter turnout. It might mean, however, that people with disabilities would need to travel further to be able to vote. The House subcommittee approved the bill with some amendments.

SB 722 (Carrico) – Allows an electoral board to designate a hospital administrator to be able to provide applications for absentee ballots.

SB 967 (Ebbin) – Eliminates the requirement that people with disabilities provide information about the disability in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. This bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections committee with some amendments.

Mental Health and Mandatory Outpatient Treatment

HB 1423 (O’Bannon) – Clarifies that the CSB where a person resides may petition for a hearing to consider mandatory outpatient treatment prior to discharge. Approved by the House.

HB 1680 (Yost) and SB 996 (Barker) – Extends the time of a temporary detention order to 72 hours from 48 hours. Approved by a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice and in the Senate by Senate Courts of Justice, but referred to Senate Finance.

SB 920 (Carrico) – Mandates that transportation after the entry of a temporary custody order or emergency custody order must be provided by an alternative transportation provider – someone other than law enforcement – in certain circumstances. There was extensive debate about the bill in Senate Courts of Justice, but the bill was carried over for a week or so.

Education and Special Education

HB 1344 (Bell, Richard) – Establishes that the School for the Deaf and Blind may be the least restrictive environment.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 
Training Center Closures

There are some bills that attempt to slow down or prevent the closure of Virginia’s training centers. As a precursor to the settlement agreement between Virginia and the Department of Justice, The Commonwealth announced its intention to close four of the five training centers by 2020. The settlement agreement then requires the creation of quality community services and supports for those leaving the training centers and for hundreds of people on waiver waiting lists.

HB1669 (Crockett-Stark) – Requires the Department to keep Southwestern Virginia Training Center open and requires new admissions to the training center. The House subcommittee recommended laying this bill on the table, which would mean the bill does not proceed.

SB 972 (Black) – Places a moratorium on the closure of training centers until such time as the General Assembly develops a plan for the closures that will satisfy the settlement agreement. This bill was withdrawn by the patron, who promised to address this issue in budget language.

Additionally, the money committees have created a Special Joint Subcommittee to Consult on the Plan to Close State Training Centers. They met on Friday, January 11, 2013 and plan to meet once more during the session. Other bills that could impact people with intellectual and developmental disabilities include:

HB 1444 (O’Bannon) – Allows staff of facilities licensed by the Department of Behavioral Health to be able to administer insulin and epinephrine (epi-pens). Approved by the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Assisted Living Facilities

SB 708 (Hanger) – To allow for the self administration of medications by residents of assisted living facilities.

HB 1511 (Hope) – Requires emergency generators at ALFs. The House subcommittee recommended laying the bill on the table, which means the bill would not proceed.

Guardianship

SB 759 (Edwards) – Various amendments to guardianship laws. Approved by Senate Courts of Justice and read twice in the Senate.

Community Integration

HB1519 (Villanueva) – Extends Community Integration Commission to 2016. Approved by House Committee on Rules and read twice in the House.

HB 1661 (BaCote) – Allows a local government to require people who use mobility devices such as a wheelchair, walker, mobility cane, crutch or pair of crutches, or knee scooter, to be required to attach certain safety equipment, such as a safety flag, to the mobility aid. This bill was stricken by the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns.

Health Care Reform

SB 924 (Watkins) – Creates the Virginia Health Benefits Exchange, to make health benefit plans available to certain individuals and employers, pursuant to the Affordable Care Act. This bill places limitations on the availability of some women’s health services.

*****

VOPA’s mission is through zealous and effective advocacy and legal representation, to protect and advance legal, human and civil rights of persons with disabilities, combat and prevent abuse, neglect and discrimination, and promote independence, choice, and self determination by persons with disabilities. The Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy is available to advise and educate legislators and other policy makers about the implications of their legislative decisions for the rights of people with disabilities in Virginia.

The Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy is an independent state agency. However, VOPA will transition to a private non-profit organization by October 1, 2013. The general assembly will consider legislation this session that will address issues related to this transition. See HB 1844.