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State Senate OKs bills to help people with disabilities

New York State Senate
The New York State Senate.

The state Senate this week passed a package of bills to boost individuals with disabilities.

Sen. John Mannion, who chairs the Senate Disabilities Committee, introduced legislation that would create an ombudsman program within the state Office of People With Developmental Disabilities to ensure that individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities receive coverage from managed care organizations.

He also sponsored bills that would reestablish OPWDD's care demonstration program and remove insensitive words from state law.

The measures were among eight that the state Senate approved Monday. The state Assembly passed two of the bills as part of its package.

Mannion, D-Geddes, was named chair of the Senate Disabilities Committee in January. It's a new committee that was created after Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins decided to split the former Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. There are now separate committees focusing on those subjects and providing oversight of the relevant state agencies.

"Establishing a new Senate committee dedicated to protecting and supporting disabled New Yorkers sends a powerful message," Mannion said. "It also comes with the moral obligation to deliver real and lasting change for individuals, families, caregivers and stakeholders.

"Under the leadership of (Stewart-Cousins), the state Senate is meeting these obligations. We are improving the lives of disabled New Yorkers in ways large and small, continuing the Senate's renewed commitment to the I/DD community. I never want to let the disabilities community down. Ensuring we have the policies, funding and proper supports in place to facilitate happy, meaningful and productive lives for all I/DD New Yorkers is one of my guideposts."

The other bills that passed the Senate on Monday include legislation introduced by Stewart-Cousins that requires owners of high-rise buildings to develop emergency evacuation plans for people with disabilities.

Sen. Roxanne Persaud sponsored a bill that is similar to one of Mannion's measures. Persaud's legislation would replace the use of the term "mentally retarded" in state law with a new term, "individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities."

A bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Addabbo would allow a support companion to be present when an individual with disabilities is in the hospital.

Sen. James Sanders authored legislation that would receive retroactive rent relief. The bill would give enrollees in the Disability Rent Increase Exemption and Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption programs a rent reduction dating back to when they were first eligible for the benefits.

The Senate also passed a bill sponsored by Sen. James Skoufis that establishes the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities. The agency would "advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities and assure that persons with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to exercise all of their rights and responsibilities."

"We must ensure disabled New Yorkers have the opportunities and tools they need to succeed and the protections and access to care that these bills will provide," Stewart-Cousins said.