This weekend marks the 15th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court Olmstead decision. This decision affirmed that people with disabilities have a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to live in the community or, as the court said, the most integrated setting.
People with disabilities across the country are celebrating this anniversary with events highlighting how the decision has allowed Americans with disabilities to live in freedom and share in the American dream. In New York, however, disability rights advocates are concerned that the state legislature will not only fail to enact legislation that would implement this 15 year old decision that requires states to stop discriminating against people with disabilities, but in fact may pass legislation that effectively blocks Olmstead in the state and deny disabled New Yorkers their right to live in the community.
Last week, over 70 people from across the state rallied to urge the New York State legislature to pass legislation implementing the Community First Choice Option. When the leadership refused to commit to moving this legislation forward, 17 of the protesters were arrested.
Specifically, this legislation would create a new category of attendant – an advanced aide – who could perform health related tasks such as assisting with medication administration, catheterization, feeding tubes, and ventilators. It would also allow New York State to implement the Community First Choice Option which would ensure that any individual who is eligible for institutional placement could receive services and supports in the community as the Olmstead decision requires.
Aside from creating an advanced aide to perform health related tasks, the legislation would create new services for people with dementia and others who need safety monitoring, provide vital community-based services for people with developmental disabilities currently on waiting lists, and significantly expand mental health services. Not only would this expansion and these new services be paid for entirely with federal funds, the state would actually generate an extra $350 million every year, and that amount would increase as the state implements the Governor’s Olmstead Plan.
In response to the protest, the Assembly introduced legislation (A.10137) that would allow the state to move forward with full implementation of CFC in 2017. However, on this – the last day of the state’s legislative session – the bill appears stalled in committee and the Senate appears unwilling to take up the bill.
However, another Olmstead-related bill does appear to have traction in the state legislature. The “Freeze Unsafe Closures Now Act” (S.5986/A.8294) – a bill championed by the unions representing the workers in state institutions – would block the closure of the institutions and effectively derail the Governor’s Olmstead Plan and force New Yorkers with disabilities to continue to be unnecessarily segregated in institutions. The bill passed in the Senate unanimously and yesterday flew through the Assembly Ways and Means committee.
There is still time for the legislature to do the right thing and support the Olmstead decision. Today, on the last day of New York’s legislative session, the Assembly could pass the Community First Choice/advanced aide legislation; send it to the Senate who could then pass it so it could become law. This would set the stage for the biggest civil rights victory for New Yorkers with disabilities since passage of the ADA.
Alternatively, the Assembly could pass legislation – already passed by then Senate – that effectively blocks Olmstead implementation and violates the civil rights of people with disabilities in state institutions.
The Center for Disability Rights calls on the New York State legislature to honor and support the Olmstead decision and the civil rights of people with disabilities. To do that they must pass legislation that would make community living a reality for seniors and people with disabilities in New York and block the union-sponsored legislation that violates the civil rights of people with disabilities by continuing to unnecessarily segregate us.
As the Disability Community across the country prepares to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Olmstead decision, we are all watching. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will know whether the New York State legislature supports or blocks the civil rights of New Yorkers with disabilities.