May 24, 2021

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “For the Children” Weekly Column

Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117

Email: jdorman@oica.org

 

For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA

 

Even as Tempers Flare, A Dialogue is Needed to Avoid to Poor Policy

This is the final week of the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers must adjourn by 5 p.m. Friday. Most of the big issues were considered last week, giving the Legislature a chance to override any vetoes the governor may make before they adjourn.

A few years ago, lawmakers created the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget or JCAB for short. The committee allows budget-related bills to be filed late in the session. Unfortunately, late-filed policies with limited public scrutiny spring from it. So long as there are razor-thin ties to the budget, JCAB bills fly through the process at an accelerated rate.

Limiting public input often creates questionable policy, which brings us to House Bill 2899. Proponents say it eventually would lead to the 13-year waiting list for those with developmental disabilities to get services being reduced to “zero.” Unfortunately, the bill does not say that. It instead creates a five-year wait before new Oklahomans who need such services can apply for them.

Disability attorneys, OICA, and numerous advocates believe the bill allows NO exemptions, not for transferred military families, nor for families returning to Oklahoma due to work transfers. Other “wait period” categories in law, such as in-state college tuition, have a one-year wait, with exceptions. 

Reportedly, the agreement creating this bill – though it is not part of the law – is for the state to cull down the existing list, removing applicants who have moved out of state, died, or no longer need assistance. Once done, the spoken promise is for lawmakers to fully fund services, eliminating the waiting list. Again, that is not in the bill and good intentions are no replacement for law.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) supports full funding to eliminate the waiting list, getting support to families immediately. Still, we opposed this legislation because it has no exemptions, no written guarantee that full funding will happen, and the longest new-resident waiting period in the nation.

HB 2899 has too many unknowns and too little scrutiny from inception to passage. OICA does not want to see children denied services because of a punitively long residency requirement. There was no discussion with advocates serving the developmentally disabled before the legislative debate. As a result, we felt this legislation sprang from a poor process.

OICA and several groups issued alerts noting flaws in the bill and the process. Tempers flared among some who felt the good in the spoken agreement outweighed the questionable in the written bill.

Despite this, lawmakers and agency leaders know it is the job of organizations like OICA to “call out” initiatives we and other youth programs see as harmful or not achieving intended results. We speak for those with no voice, ensuring government remains one that is “of the people, for the people, and BY the people”…all of them.

Such policy discussions can be healthy, especially when our shared goal is to improve the lives of Oklahoma’s children and avoid mistakes. Lawmakers and advocates have common goals to help children, and dialogue helps make the different paths converge for better results.

We hope this new law, already signed by Governor Stitt, quickly leads to the promise of fully funding the Developmental Disabilities Service Division (DDSD) Home and Community-Based Services Waiver. Then, this newly-crafted five-year wait for new residents should be shortened so children are not denied the services they need when their families move to Oklahoma.

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