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State Legislative Update March 10, 2010

DRS Receives Supplemental Funding

On March 5 Governor Henry signed HB-2461, providing an additional $1.2 million for the Department of Rehabilitation Services for the current fiscal year.  The supplemental appropriation helps make up for some of the funding cuts DRS has experienced this year due to the state revenue shortfall. The School for the Deaf and School for the Blind are especially expected to benefit from the supplemental funding, since state dollars are their principal source of support.

DRS was one of a limited number of education, health and public safety agencies that received supplemental funding.

Senate Bill Impacts Travel Safety for Blind Pedestrians

SB-1329 (Bass, Anderson and Lamb of the Senate; Hoskin and Ownbey of the House) would create the Motorcycle Mobility and Safety Act.  The bill would allow motorcycle and bicycle drivers to proceed through red lights if they believe the traffic light will only change to green if the presence of a larger vehicle is detected.  Under the bill, motorcycle and bicycle drivers are supposed to stop before proceeding through red lights and make sure no vehicles or pedestrians are in the intersection or preparing to enter the intersection.  If an accident results from the motorcycle or bicycle going through a red light, the vehicle that had the green light could not be charged with failure to yield the right-of-way, following too close or driving too fast for conditions.  This bill passed the Senate of a 45-0 vote, and its next stop is the House.

Blindness organizations have expressed concern that SB-1329 provisions would jeopardize the safety of visually impaired pedestrians and make it more difficult for them to travel independently in their communities.  Blind individuals are taught to safely cross intersections by depending on the information provided in part by the sound of moving traffic.  When a motorcycle of bicycle proceeds through a red light, the blind pedestrian will receive the wrong information about the direction of the flow of traffic, increasing the chances of injury or death from acting on deliberately inaccurate aural information.

Special Education Scholarship Bill Advances

HB-3393 (Nelson of the House; Anderson of the Senate) creates the Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.  This bill would allow schools to meet their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by paying for special educations students to attend private schools chosen by their parents. (This is in addition to existing provisions in federal and state law that obligate school districts to pay for students with disabilities to attend private or public schools outside the district when those schools can better meet the needs of the student.

Under the bill, the amount available to a special education student would be calculated on a per capita basis considering the average local and county revenue for the school district which is chargeable in the State Aid formula, state-dedicated revenue, and state-appropriated funds per average daily membership generated by the student, and the cost of special education services specified in the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). A school would pay the lesser of the calculated amount or the actual tuition and fees at the private school.   Under this law a school district would not be responsible for any additional special education or related services costs not covered by the scholarship amount.  The bill has passed the House 78-10 with title stricken.

The state would be exempted from any liability related to use of the Scholarships for Students with Disabilities.

The bill also amends current law to make the Self-Directed Care Program for recipients of home and community based waiver services a permanent rather than pilot program.   It deletes home modifications from those services which can be obtained under the Self-Directed Option.  It also changes composition of the advisory committee for the Self-Directed Option.

In addition, the bill specifies that services under the Self-Directed Option may be provided in association with the Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program, as long as the services are included in the individual’s plan of service (under a home and community based waiver) but are not part of the student’s IEP or covered by some other program. 

HB-3393 passed the House on a vote of 78-10 with title stricken.  It now proceeds to the Senate.

Action on Bills Affecting Vending Facility Program

Two bills with the potential to significantly impact vending facilities managed by blind individuals are now dead for the year.  SB-1896 (Bingman) and HB-2797 (Kiesel) are known as the Beverage Container Recycling Act.  They would require retailers to charge and refund deposits on beverage containers, thus creating difficulties for small vending operations without storage space or cash on hand to enable them to meet the requirements of the law.  The legislation has been introduced several times in recent years but so far has not become law.

SB-1321 (Gumm) would modify the penalty for vendors (retailers) who fail to honor sales tax exemptions for families of disabled veterans.  The bill would make failure to honor the sales tax exemption a misdemeanor with a fine up to $500 if the vendor has reason to know that the customer is eligible for the sales tax exemption and fails to honor it.  SB-1321 has passed the Senate and been sent to the House.

SB-1768 (Schulz) adds to the entities that are exempt from the annual fee on vending machines.  Machines owned by and located in schools, churches and government entities are already exempt from the fee.   Added would be machines in those locations that are owned by other entities when there is a revenue sharing agreement in place that provides some of the machine income to the school, church or agency.  This bill has passed the Senate and moved to the House.

Bill Affecting State Use Contracts Dies

HB-3045 (Renegar) states that the Department of Central Services shall not impose any fee for the management of a contract for the sale of state use items.  This would eliminate the fee established by law several years ago to support operation of the State Use program, which promotes employment of people with disabilities through state agency purchase of goods and services produced by sheltered workshops and businesses owned by individuals with disabilities.   The bill has not passed in committee and is dead for this session.

Sheltered Workshop Licensure Proposed

HB-2744 (Ownbey) provides for licensing of sheltered workshops and requires background checks at sheltered workshops.  The bill amends the Adult Day Care Act by including sheltered workshops under the Act and adding the purpose of providing a safe environment for disabled adults working in sheltered workshops.  Sheltered workshops would be subject to the licensure requirements that apply to adult day care facilities, which are licensed by the State Department of Health.  The bill did not emerge from committee and is dead for this session.

Transportation

HB-2846 (Joyner) amends existing law permitting the creation of regional transportation and economic development authorities.  Under current law as amended by HB-2846, any group of cities, counties, or agencies of such subdivisions could band together to form a regional transportation authority with the ability to develop, construct, maintain and operate transportation systems such as public transit and commuter rail.  The subdivisions which are part of such a transportation authority could hold elections to vote on adding a sales tax or other revenue source in the area to fund a transportation system or economic development projects.  The bill has passed the House Appropriations Committee.

HB-2957 (Wright) makes it illegal for a public transit driver to use a cell phone or other electronic communication device while driving a transit vehicle.  The bill has cleared committee and been placed on the House floor Agenda.

Vulnerable adults; intervention and assistance

HB-2906 (Morgan) creates the Vulnerable Adult Intervention Team Pilot Program, to be established by DHS if funds are available.  The purpose of the program would be to provide interdisciplinary community assistance, intervention and referral services for persons with mental or physical illnesses or disabilities, dementia or other related disease or condition.  The interdisciplinary team would have nine members including the directors of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, Mental Health, DHS, and Health.  The bill has passed the House Appropriations Committee.

Disabled Parking Measure Targets Abuses

HB-2567 by Rep. Wesselhoft requires municipalities to adopt disability parking ordinances.  It adds stickers issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs and disability placards issued by other states to those items recognized for disability parking privileges.  The bill sets a $500 fine for falsifying information on an application for a disability parking document, illegally parking in designated disability spaces, or allowing a non-eligible person to use the permit issued to an eligible person.  It authorizes municipalities to enforce disability parking ordinances on both public and private property.  HB-2567 has passed the House and now goes to the Senate.

Medicaid Coverage of Prosthetic Devices

HB-2990 (Enns) requires the Health Care Authority to use the Medicare rate for reimbursement for prosthetic devices under Medicaid, if funds are available.  The bill passed the House Appropriations Committee with title stricken.

Bills Propose Changes in State Government

Members of state boards and commission, such as the Commission for Rehabilitation Services, would be term-limited under SB-1597 by Senator Stanislawski.  The term limits would take effect starting November 1, 2010.  The bill passed the Senate 26-16.  It now goes to the House.

Financial operations of all state agencies would be consolidated under a single agency under HB-2310 by Rep. Murphey. The Oklahoma Innovation, Efficiency and Accountability Act of 2010 would take staff and funds from each agency and combine them to centrally handle payroll, claims, purchasing and other financial services.  Bill supporters see this as a way to reduce the cost of government.  Critics point to different agency financial service needs, and potential for confusion and delayed payment of client services purchases and vendor claims.  They fear distancing financial services from programs would lead to inefficiency without significant cost savings.  HB-2310 bill passed the House Government Modernization Committee and next will be taken up by the full House.

HB-3311 by Rep. Martin requires the Legislature to approve state agency administrative rules before they can go into effect.  Currently, the Legislature can disapprove agency rules, but if it does nothing, the rules become effective.  Under HB-3311, if the Legislature does not specifically vote to approve an agency’s rules, the rules would not become effective.   The bill has cleared committee and goes next to the full House.

HB-2319 by Rep. Murphey is the Task Force Accountability Act of 2010. It requires legislatively created task forces to meet and issue reports in a timely fashion.  Inactive task forces would be eliminated.   The bill has passed the House and been sent to the Senate.

Bill Would Reduce Funds for Equipment for the Deaf

HB-2822 (Auffet) relates to the telephone access line surcharge for hearing-impaired services.  It provides that telephone customers need not pay the surcharge if they are otherwise exempt from taxation.  The bill did not clear committee and it is dead for this session.

Diabetes Bill Transformed Into Health Care Data Legislation

SB-1915 by Sen. Adelson began as a bill focusing on diabetes treatment, but its original language has been completely changed.  The bill which emerged from committee puts the Insurance Department in charge of a health care database, built by health care and claims data from health care providers.  The data will be used to analyze health care needs, costs and utilization and to aid health care planning.  The bill is ready for a full Senate vote.

Livable communities

SB-1640 (Halligan) is the Certified Retirement Communities Program Act.  It directs the Department of Commerce to develop a certification to recognize communities that have created conditions favorable to retirees and that would attract older residents and tourists by offering favorable tax provisions, health and safety improvements, public transportation, community services and activities, etc. The bill has passed the Senate and goes next to the House.

Healthy communities

SB-1818 (Crain) creates the Certified Healthy Communities Act.  The Department of Health would set criteria for certifying communities as healthy.  Criteria would include such things as ordinances that promote sidewalks and bicycle trails, strict social host policies, availability of parks and outdoor recreation facilities, free clinics, community mental health services, farmers markets.  Criteria do not need to be limited to those listed.  Public transportation and accessibility are not specifically mentioned in the bill.  SB-1818 has passed the Senate and now goes to the House.

Vision research

SB-2120 (Sparks) provides for donation of income tax refunds to a certain vision research and patient care facility.  The bill passed the Senate and now goes to the House.

Bills on Needs of Blind Students are not Heard

Two bills addressing the educational needs of students with visual disabilities have both failed to meet the deadline for committee passage and are dead for this session. HB-3328 by Rep. Pittman directed the formation of a Braille production program at a state prison, and required the Department of Corrections to develop a training program to qualify inmates in Braille transcription. (Note:  A prison Braille transcription program is currently in place at a private prison in the state and is being used by DRS for Braille production.)  Although HB-3328 did not survive, its concept could be implemented without legislation if determined feasible.

HB-3331, also by Rep. Pittman, outlined certain evaluation requirements for students with visual disabilities, teacher training, and testing accommodations for visually impaired and blind students. The measure was similar to legislation presented last year by Rep. Pittman, who has worked closely with parents and teachers to identify critical needs of blind students.  Although the bill is no longer active this session, some of its issues are being addressed by working groups convened by the Special Education section in the State Department of Education.

Bills Address Accident and Injury on the Roads

HB-3250 (Tibbs and Morgan) would make it illegal to use a cell phone or electronic communication device while driving unless the device is hands-free.  The bill provides for some exceptions such as law enforcement personnel, persons reporting emergencies, and persons with commercial chauffeur licenses while performing the duties of their jobs.  Violation of the law would be punishable by a fine and court costs not to exceed $1,000.  The bill is ready for full House consideration.

SB-1908 (Sykes) prohibits distracted driving.  It defines "distracted driving", "personal communication device", and "use".  Persons guilty of distracted driving are subject to a $100 fine and court costs.  The bill provides exceptions for hands-free use of cell phones and for use of electronic communication devices for emergency purposes.  The bill is ready for a full Senate vote.

SB-1324 (Russell) adds a fee of three dollars to motorcycle registration, to be used for motorcycle safety and education.  The bill has passed the Senate.

 

Jean Jones, DVR/DVS Legislative Information Rep 
OK Department of Rehabilitation Services