Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill May 25 eliminating one of Washington State’s five residential habilitation centers – its institutions for people with developmental disabilities — and laying out plans to close another.
“This legislation was a long time coming and is a result of much compromise,” said Mark Stroh, executive director of DisAbility Rights Washington. “While we are grateful to the Governor, Senator Adam Kline and all the legislators who worked to get this incremental step forward enacted, the law falls well short of the ideal. We are particularly disappointed, and surprised, by the Governor’s decision to veto Sections 7 and 11. Assurance of quality community services for people who move out of the institutions seemed to be the one thing on which institutional and community advocates agreed.”
The Bremerton-based Frances Haddon Morgan Center, which holds 44 people with disabilities and employs more than 100 people, will close its doors Dec. 31. It will be replaced with two “state-operated living alternatives” on its campus.
The Yakima Valley School, which holds 81 people with disabilities and employs 250 people, will no longer accept new admissions to the facility. However, people with disabilities will remain at the facility until its population reduces to 16, either through resident’s transferring or dying, when it will then also become a state-operated living facility.
Gov. Gregoire, however, vetoed two sections of the bill. She vetoed Section 7, which would have guaranteed a series of processes and services to transition individuals out of the residential habilitation centers, expressing concern that the section would create an unfunded mandate by requiring the state to reimburse family and friends of the transitioning residents for travel costs.
She also vetoed Section 11, which would have required the state to submit an annual report to the legislature regarding people who have transition from the center, saying that the information is already regularly gathered.
While applauding the decision to downsize the residential habilitation centers, David Lord, director of public policy at DisAbility Rights Washington, said Gregoire’s decision to veto the two sections creates unnecessary uncertainty for individuals transitioning from the centers.
“There’s a worry out there that people who chose to move out of the institutions will initially have some services, but as time goes on, and the budget continues to worsen, they’ll lose those services,” he said. “We want that to ensure there is more than just a promise. There should be an expectation backed by law.”
Under the bill, the state’s five residential habilitation centers, which together hold more than 800 residents, will no longer accept individuals under the age of 21.
It also creates a task force to examine ways to further move people with institutional settings into more integrated settings. Lord worried that the task force could “deadlock” progress by giving an additional voice to people whose main focus may not be the facility’s residents.
“The decision about which institution should close should be about what is the best use of resources rather than about what district where the institution is closed,” Lord said. “The primary, and really only, consideration should be how we can use the available resources to the maximum benefit of those who reside in the institutions, not how we create jobs.”
The bill passed the Senate 32-13 and the House 63-33.
The ARC of Washington’s video of the signing ceremony can be accessed here.
DisAbility Rights Washington is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.