Disability Rights Ohio, an independent nonprofit organization that serves as the state’s federally designated advocate for people with disabilities, likely will continue in that role.
State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, said Thursday that lawmakers will remove a provision in the budget bill that would have created a joint legislative committee to examine whether a new entity should be designated as the state’s protection and advocacy system.
Disability Rights has held the position since 1980.
“It really did come out of nowhere,” Michael Kirkman, Disability Rights executive director, said of the proposal. “No one takes credit for it.”
Kirkman said last week that his best guess was that someone wanted to retaliate because of his organization’s aggressive investigations and litigation, sometimes against the state.
For example, Disability Rights sued the state three years ago in federal court, saying that Ohio’s disabilities system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by making it difficult for people to get the services they need to live and work in their communities. The case is expected to be settled soon.
Protection and advocacy systems — there are more than 50 nationwide — were established in the 1970s after investigations exposed terrible conditions and human-rights violations among people living in various institutions throughout the country.
Governors are required to designate a system in the state that advocates on behalf of people with disabilities, and the overall protection and advocacy network is the nation’s largest provider of legal advocacy services for people with disabilities.
Kirkman and others say only a governor can choose a different group after finding “good cause,” such as a lack of compliance. “Good cause decidedly does not include disagreement with advocacy priorities of the P&A,” Kirkman said in testimony to a Senate committee.
He said that Disability Rights was told that office of Gov. Mike DeWine was not aware of the provision added to the budget bill; neither was the state Department of Developmental Disabilities or Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.
Hackett also said he doesn’t know the origins of the proposal, which would have established a committee to conduct a review every two years to determine whether a new protection and advocacy system should be chosen.
He said Senate leadership was made aware that the plan probably would run afoul of federal regulations. “So we’re taking it out,” he said.