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Bill Of Rights Proposed For People With Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act marks its 25th anniversary this month, and a Pennsylvania lawmaker says a bill of rights for those with disabilities is “long overdue.”

Legislation filed by State Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery, Philadelphia) would institute a bill of rights, promising people with disabilities the necessary support to live as independently and actively within their communities as possible, including making their own decisions on living arrangements and other support services.

“Some individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are able to participate in a very high order of magnitude and others may not be able to participate in a meaningful way as much as others, and maybe their family participates more in the process,” Murt said. “But be that as it may, we believe these individuals have the right to participate to the best of their ability.”

Senate Bill 133 would require the Department of Human Services to draft a five-year plan to tackle the approximately 14,000-person waiting list for disability services. In particular, Murt wants the department to address those with the most urgent needs, such as adults with disabilities who are being taken care of by elderly parents.

“Many people have been on this waiting list for services for decades,” he said. “They literally have been waiting decades for various kinds of placements into a group home or for a waiver.”

The bill would require that at the end of the five-year plan, all cases will be resolved and the list would be eliminated.

Some Democrats in Harrisburg balked at the idea, noting potential budget constraints for the department. Murt said the legislation only asks for the report to be created, not its implementation. 

Any plan would task department officials and lawmakers to solve client needs using only the resources currently available to the department with no extra budgetary expectations, he said.

He’s offered three possible funding sources: a nominal tax on natural state gas extraction, a tax on some tobacco products and an entrance fee for casinos.

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, a non-profit advocacy group, has worked with the legislators on the bill and supports its approval.

“It’s really important that people get services so that they can live in the community in integrated settings and not have to be institutionalized,” said Chava Kintisch, the group's director of civic and government affairs.

The bill has been approved by two committees and has been sent to the full House for consideration. Murt said he thinks it will pass the House and likes its chances in the Senate.

If approved through both chambers this summer, the bill could reach the governor’s desk by September.