Disability Rights Oregon Legislative Update

This update is provided by Disability Rights Oregon for February 13 2009

Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board Bill Stumbles

On Tuesday, the Senate Health Care and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 25. This bill would create an advisory board for Oregon State Hospital. The original bill called for a board made up of advocates, health care professionals, consumers, community members and a family member.

At the hearing, the bill was amended to remove an advocate, a health care professional, and a community member and replace them with representatives of Oregon State Hospital doctors, nurses and line staff. Consumers and advocates were disappointed that the board seemed to change from an external oversight body to one with representatives of special interest groups.

Although Senate Bill 25 was passed by the committee in amended form, it must return for another hearing because it will cost money to implement. Advocates hope to have another chance to make their case for the board to have greater independence.

House Committee Hears General Assistance Bill

On Wednesday, the House Human Services Committee held its first hearing on House Bill 2051. This bill would restore the General Assistance Program that was defunded in the wake of 2003 budget cuts.

The General Assistance Program would support Oregon residents who have disabilities and are pursuing Supplemental Security Income or Social Security
Disability benefits by providing monthly cash assistance, medical assistance and case management services. The program would begin January 1, 2010.

Many witnesses provided stark testimony about individuals with disabilities who are unable to work and who have no money for food, shelter or health care while they wait for months and years for the cumbersome Social Security Administration to process their applications.

Committee members acknowledged the severe needs of this population but also the difficult challenges to enacting House Bill 2051 due to budget constraints.

Ways and Means Committee Hears Impact of Cuts on Human Services

On Tuesday, advocates for human services describes the impact of budget cuts on services for children and families, seniors and people with disabilities, those with mental health and addictions needs, individuals with developmental disabilities and those who depend on the state for health insurance. Committee Co-Chair Margaret Carter said that decisions about which programs and individuals would be cut had not yet been made. She thanked the witnesses for describing the real life value of human services and the impact of cutting them.

Mental Health Caucus Holds Second Meeting

Representative Ron Maurer convened Thursday’s meeting of the Mental Health Caucus. The featured speaker was John Mullin from the Oregon Law Center. John explained that his organization provides civil legal services to poor Oregonians and advocates on their behalf at the Capitol. Also speaking was Jim Russell from the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network. Jim provided information underscoring the need to integrate health services with mental health services. He noted that people with serious mental illness die, on average, 25 years sooner than the general population.

The next Mental Health Caucus meeting is on February 26 at noon in Room 343 at the Capitol. You can also participate by phone: 503 378-3313.

Capitol information and bill schedules can be found at www.leg.state.or.us