Legislation Signed into Law

The 2017 Legislative Session is finally over and there were seven significant pieces of legislation signed into law by Governor Edwards which benefit individuals with disabilities.

The Governor’s Advisory Council on Disability Affairs made a formal recommendation that corporal punishment for students with disability be prohibited in schools.  Governor Edwards agreed to include this legislation in this legislative package.  Rep. Franklin Foil authored HB 79/Act 266, which prohibits the administration of corporal punishment to students with exceptionalities (except gifted and talented students) and to students who are eligible for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and who have an Individual Accommodation Plan. Further, makes present law and proposed law applicable to charter schools.

SB 58/Act73 by Sen. Fred Mills establishes legislative intent for the modernization of the statutes governing the human services districts and authorities to clarify their purpose in the health delivery spectrum. This requires a minimum number of professionals and consumers with experience in the fields of developmental disability, mental health, and addictive disorders on each board; updates requirements for board member education and training and affirms the district and authorities role in providing community services in partnership with the local law enforcement and judicial offices; Requires each district and authority to set aside funding in an amount equal to at least 9% of its state general fund appropriation each fiscal year for services for persons with developmental disabilities.

SB 152/Act 74 by Sen. Troy Carter provides that upon request of an applicant for a driver's license or a special identification card who needs accommodation, a designation that the applicant needs accommodation will be exhibited on the driver's license or special identification card, upon presentation of a statement from a qualified medical professional licensed in the state or any U.S. state or territory verifying the medical reason, including any mental, physical, or developmental disability, the applicant needs accommodation as established by administrative rule and prohibits any additional fee for such designation.

Rep. Patricia Smith authored two bills important to people who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing.  HB 253/Act 146 revises terminology in present law referring to the deaf and persons who are hard of hearing by deleting and making substitutions for derogatory, inaccurate, and obsolete terms.  HB 582/Act 273 decreases the monthly tax from 5 cents to 4 ½ cents and expands the services upon which the tax is levied to include wireless handset devices. This requires the tax to be levied per month and to be assessed per line for each wireless access line and per telephone number for each wireless handset device. Applying the $0.045 monthly rate to these transactions implies collections of $5.6 million. Comparing this estimate, less 3% of collections for timely remittance, to the most recent landline collections figure of $700,000, this implies a revenue gain of $4.7 million.

Rep. Julie Stokes authored two pieces of legislation that benefits people with disabilities, particularly those with physical limitations. HB 337/Act 270 extends current law to include both new and existing dwellings; changes the amount of the income tax credit to the lesser of $5,000 or the cost of the construction; authorizes excess, unused credit to be carried forward and applied to subsequent tax liability for 5 years; requires the renovation of an existing dwelling to meet any of the standards enumerated; authorizes a taxpayer to claim the tax credit if there is a valid and enforceable contract of lease between the taxpayer and any individual who has a physical disability that requires, or will require, the inclusion of accessible and barrier-free design elements in the dwelling and who occupies and resides in any portion of the dwelling pursuant to the terms of the contract of lease; establishes a program cap not to exceed $500,000 in credits granted by the Louisiana Department of Revenue each calendar year and provides for the claim of credits on a first-come, first-served basis. A taxpayer whose claim is disallowed due to the cap may claim the credit  in the next calendar year and have priority over other claims. HB 179/Act 292 expands the “Right to Try Act," which authorizes the prescription of investigational drugs, biological products, and devices to certain terminally ill patients who have given informed written consent to investigational treatment and who meet other criteria necessary to be deemed "eligible patients.”  The law stipulates that a person who can understand and comprehend spoken English but is physically unable to talk or write may be deemed as meeting the criteria of present law relative to consent if he is competent and able to indicate consent by other means.        


ADA Symposium scheduled for July 26

The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs will host the ADA Symposium on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, at the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge. The ADA Symposium is free to attend and will feature national accessibility expert Kristi J. Avalos, the President and CEO of Accessology. Those in attendance will be able to participate in a Q & A session with Ms. Avalos and discuss various topics relative to accessibility in Louisiana. There will also be breakout sessions in the afternoon regarding employing people with different abilities in business and government, impacting communities through local disability awareness councils, and programmatic possibilities in higher education.  These sessions will be geared towards collaboration through sharing information, success stories, and challenges.   For more information contact Jolan Jolivette at Jolan.Jolivette@la.gov or (225) 219-7553. To RSVP, register here.


LA ABLE: Helping Louisiana Families Build for Tomorrow

Have you seen the billboards on the interstate advertising LA ABLE? Are you wondering what it is and how it can help people with disabilities and their families? Then we have all the information you need to know!

The Louisiana Achieving a Better Life Experience Act is a new program that has been started as a way for people with disabilities and their families to save money for expenses without worrying about it being counted as an asset by the Social Security Administration. Under this new program account holders can save up to $100,000 without risking loss of benefits and funds can be used to pay for things such as education, housing, and transportation services.

A person is eligible for this program if their disabilities begun to show up before the age of 26 and they qualify for SSDI and/or SSI based on disability. Individuals must provide a signed diagnosis form from an authorized physician.  For more information and to find the requisite forms, please visit our website.


GOLD Awards to be Held on November 15; Deadline to Nominate is October 2

The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs (GODA) will host the Governor’s Outstanding Leadership in Disabilities (GOLD) Awards on November 15, 2017, at the Old State Capitol. The GOLD Awards recognizes extraordinary individuals and organizations who have contributed their time and talents to benefit the lives of people with disabilities in Louisiana.   Two new awards this year are the Elected Official of the Year and the Public Servant of the Year.  The deadline for submitting nominations is Monday, October 2nd, 2017.  Click here to download the nomination packet.


Inclusive Art Contest

To bring greater awareness of the importance of inclusion in today’s society, the Governor's Office of Disability Affairs (GODA) encourages you to participate in the 2017 Inclusive Art Contest. GODA will be accepting entries that illustrate or describe ideas related to this year’s theme and accompanying definitions of inclusion of persons with disabilities, and this year’s theme is “Together We Succeed.” Award medals and special recognition from Governor John Bel Edwards will be presented to the artists who submit winning artwork on November 15th, 2017, at the Inclusive Art Show at the Old Sate Capitol. The Inclusive Art Contest is open to all residents of Louisiana. Contestants are encouraged to use art as a means to share their vision, experiences, and talents to demonstrate this year’s theme. Click here for the registration form.


Cuts to EarlySteps

In the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, EarlySteps will be cut by $1 million as compared to the current year.  The cut will be realized with the following changes:

  • Revise eligibility criteria for children who qualify due to preterm birth will require them to meet the developmental delay criteria, with a delay in one area of development.  There are no other eligibility criteria changes.  Impact:  approximately 150 children who may not remain eligible.
  • Suspend services to families who exceed 120 days of nonpayment of their cost participation requirement.  Impact: approximately 170 families.
  • Eliminate 1 team meeting per year for children in their 2nd year of services, excluding their transition year.  Impact: approximately 800 meetings with families.
  • Remove the upper limit cap on hourly rate for families over 500% of the federal poverty level.  Impact: approximately 100 families who will have increased hourly service charges.


Language Evolution in the DeafBlind Community

All language is an evolutionary process. In an age of fast-paced technology and instant information, it has perhaps never before been more important to understand the legal and cultural undercurrents that relate to and shape the languages we use. Recently, @SLIC Interpreting Services Supervisor April Stracener, NIC-RID, attended a Silent Weekend conference designed to, among other things, provide registered interpreters avenues to hone their communication skills and to stay abreast of the trends, technologies, and cultural sensitivities affecting our times. Presenters spoke on array of topics from colloquialisms to political science, and though all were important, one of the most fascinating presentations dealt with the linguistic innovations of the DeafBlind.

For DeafBlind individuals across Louisiana, Braille, fingerspelling, and American Sign Language have been vital links in the chain of communication with the outside world. And while each method has its place, challenges still exist. Pro-Tactile or "haptics" is a new philosophical approach that uses touch to provide non-linguistic information to DeafBlind individuals. Unlike visual ASL, created for and by Deaf Culture, Protactile is a language tailored specifically for the needs of the DeafBlind community. An organic language, Pro-tactile borrows from ASL, adapting signs as needed.  Though still in its infancy, Pro-tactile has taken hold to become a powerful movement, going on to gain a foothold even in the White House. We look forward to seeing its wider growth and implementation right here in the state of Louisiana.


Access to Health Care Survey

The Arc of Louisiana has been working for years on issues related to healthcare disparities for people with disabilities. They are currently collecting information from their survey, which will be used to determine the need to develop resources to provide assistance to healthcare professionals to improve access and quality of healthcare for individuals with disabilities, thus reducing disability health disparities. The Arc is asking individuals to take a few minutes to complete the online survey. This survey can be taken by the individual with a disability or a family member.  All responses will come directly back to The Arc of Louisiana. The survey can be accessed at: https://app.icontact.com/icp/sub/survey/start?sid=669&cid=1594022.  If anyone has questions, please feel free to contact Kelly Monroe at kmonroe@thearcla.org.


Emergency Management Disability and Aging Coalition

On May 4,2017, the Emergency Management Disability and Aging Coalition (EMDAC) conducted an interactive table top exercise to review plans and procedures with residents with access and functional needs at the annual Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association (LEPA) conference.   There were over 45 participants from local, state and nonprofit partners.  Offices of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) from Acadia, Red River, Natchitoches, St. Martin, Vermilion, Catahoula, Vernon, Rapides, St. Helena, St. Bernard, Point Coupee, Tangipahoa and St. James were well represented.  The ARC of Louisiana, Trach Mommas of Louisiana, Families Helping Families Southwest Louisiana and the Southwest Louisiana Independence Center (SLIC) invited citizens with access and functional needs and various disabilities to participate in the event.  State agency partners such as the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) and the American Red Cross were there as well.

The major strengths identified during this exercise are as follows:

  • Most parish offices of emergency preparedness (OEP) have warning systems and tools to let residents know of an emergency.  Some of those systems mentioned are NIXLE, Alert FM, SNAP, Reverse 911 and SMART 911.
  • Agencies that provide services day to day for residents with access and functional needs such as the Independent Living Councils and Families Helping Families can be a great resource to local OEPs to distribute emergency information and assist with emergency planning efforts.

During the TTX, some opportunities for improvement were identified. The primary areas for improvement, including recommendations, are as follows:

  • Most emergency notification systems are parish specific. Residents with access and functional needs and their advocates should coordinate with the parish OEP and review their plans annually to keep all information current.
  • There is an emerging population of people who are technology dependent and medically complex. It would be most helpful in emergency planning effort to have a list of those individuals or at least the numbers per parish.
  • Some residents with access and functional needs can be difficult to assist if emergency workers are untrained or not prepared for their needs.  First responders do have to complete a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) but all rescue workers should have disability training. The American Red Cross offers the class “Everyone is Welcome.”  In addition to consulting persons with disabilities, their families and caregivers can provide valuable information on how to best handle a situation. 

The exercise accomplished all of the stated objectives and many participants were able to see how important the local Office of Emergency Preparedness was in their planning and response efforts. Participants learned how shelters would meet the needs of those with access and functional needs or disabilities and that everyone’s definition of disability is not the same. Everyone learned how important effective communication, cooperation, and teamwork are in a disaster. There was an overall appreciation among attendees for the opportunity to have an open, safe conversation among residents with disabilities or other access and functional needs, advocates, emergency leaders and emergency responders.

For more information on this event or other Emergency Preparedness efforts, please email amy.dawson@la.gov