I recently made one of my yearly trips to our Capital in Tallahassee. Some years I have make more than one trip, but most of the time it is just one trip to advocate for legislation helping those with disabilities.
Chatting with Senator Dean (he will soon be terming our and he will be missed) I was reminded that I have been meeting with him since his first year in office – that was 2002. Time flies, so my trips have been going on for over 12 years. I am not sure if I was visiting before he took office. Encounters blur together and memories are not always perfect.
Never the less, it has been a lot of years advocating. Over the years my advocacy has been varied, not just limited to those issues that affect the disabled. In fact my first couple of years centered on children’s issues and my trips were made during Children’s Week at the Capital.
Although these last years I have been going up during Developmental Disability Day at the Capital I still advocate for more than just those with disabilities. I continue to advocate for our children, especially those in foster care or recently adopted. This year there were some justice issues that also were on my legislative agenda. Two of them being a bill to end the death penalty in Florida (it may not pass this year but it is inevitable) and a bill to required a unanimous jury verdict to impost the death penalty (this looks like it could pass this year.)
Restoring budget cuts for those with disabilities is a big issue this year and will continue to be for the future. Reimbursement rates for those who provide services to those with disabilities have been cut over 14% on the average. And these cuts have been in place for over a decade. This year advocacy groups are hoping to get 7% restored. This will still not bring us back to 2003 levels.
Employment and transportation are also important issues. There is an Employment First Bill that could give employers incentives to hire persons with disabilities. Transportation funding always falls short of what is needed.
There are still over 20,000 Florida citizens with disabilities on a waiting list for services. The legislature and governor are being asked to provide funding to remove as many as possible from this waiting list and to provide these essential services for our vulnerable citizens.
Children with disabilities are still being housed in nursing homes or facilities for adults. Children with some medical needs, usually complex, are being housed in nursing home facilities for the elderly despite a lawsuit and direction from the Federal Government to place them in appropriate facilities.
There are many other issues that impact the daily life and quality of life of our citizens with disabilities. These needs should be addressed and solutions put in place.
I am a realist when it comes to Tallahassee. I look for, hope for and work for incremental changes. This has worked in the past, as we have moved forward to better serve this population. I am heartened by the fact that we have not taken any steps backward in the last few years. This is an area where two steps forward and one step backward is unacceptable.