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Rehabilitation Issues Update 

Rehabilitation and Disability Legislation and Issues May 8, 2009

State Laws Enacted or Vetoed

Health insurance and the uninsured:

HB-2026 (Steele; Crain)  This Act is called the Health Care for Oklahomans Act.  It provides for methods to expand Insure Oklahoma, the existing program that provides premium assistance for small businesses (99 or fewer employees) and employees meeting certain income eligibility criteria.  A Health Care for the Uninsured Board (HUB) is created.  The State Insurance Commissioner, Health Care Authority and Health Department are all involved in various aspects of the HUB’s work to provide health insurance options for uninsured citizens.  The new law opens the way for insurers to offer limited and less expensive health care plans that are not subject to “coverage mandates” that currently exist in Oklahoma law.  These limited plans will be referred to as “standard” plans, and they can only be offered to persons age 40 or under.  The Insurance Commissioner will certify plans, and will establish consumer education and online information to help consumers select and enroll in health plans and apply for premium assistance.  Medical providers treating uninsured persons may refer them to the HUB for help enrolling in any insurance or subsidy for which they qualify.  The state’s Medicaid Reform Act is amended to allow the premium assistance program to have an option for high deductible insurance that is used in conjunction with a health savings account.  The measure was signed into law May 6th.

Autism Treatment

On May 4th Governor Henry signed SB-135, legislation which aims to improve the availability of autism services in the state.  Henry commended bill authors for taking on autism issues, but described the bill as “one very small step in the effort to help affected Oklahoma families.”

SB-135 by Justice of the Senate and Steele, Sullivan and Collins of the House, gives DHS’ Developmental Disabilities Services division the role to license persons qualified to practice in Oklahoma as licensed behavior analysts.  Persons employed by a school district who provide services solely to that district under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are exempt from the licensure requirements of the law.  The new law also directs the State Department of Education to use funds to provide training to Sooner Start providers in working with children who have autism spectrum disorders.  The University Hospitals Authority is directed to spend funds to train primary care physicians in evaluation of children with autism.  DDSD is directed to secure funding for a pilot project to test the results of behavior analyst treatment for children with autism. 

A like bill, HB-2027 by Steele, was amended in the Senate to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism under the state’s High Risk Health Insurance Pool.  However, after passing the Senate on 4-14-09, this bill has seen no further action.

On signing SB-135 Henry wrote, “Many people have rightfully questioned whether this legislation will actually produce significant new services if insurance doesn’t cover the cost of treatment and parents can’t afford to pay the bill. To provide comprehensive assistance to the families of children with autism, we must also approve legislation extending insurance coverage to treatment of this developmental disability.”

Disability parking space signage:

HB-1007 by Wesselhoft and Leftwich was signed by the Governor on April 14th.  It requires that after January 1, 2010, all parking spaces designated for persons with disabilities shall have signs that conform to R7-8 in a particular FTA manual, and include the term “reserved parking.” 

2-1-1 Human services resource information:

HCR-1017 (Peters; Anderson and others)  A resolution expressing support for the federal Calling for 2-1-1 Act that is now being considered in Congress.  HCR-1017 has been adopted by both houses and filed with the Secretary of State.  The federal 2-1-1 Act (H.R. 211 and S. 211) would facilitate nationwide availability of 2-1-1 telephone service for information and referral on health and human services, including volunteer services.  Each state could receive a matching grant for its 2-1-1 service if it assures that 50% of the cost to operate its 2-1-1 program is provided by non-federal sources (which may include in-kind contributions).  The legislation authorizes the appropriation of $150,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2009 and 2010, and $100,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2011 through 2014.  H.R. 211 currently has 120 cosponsors and S. 211 has 38 cosponsors.  None of the Oklahoma members of Congress have yet signed on as cosponsors. 

Group homes advisory board:

HB-1019 extends the Group Homes for Persons with Developmental or Physical Disabilities Advisory Board until July 1, 2010.

Assisted living:

HB-1065 by Faught and Crain directs the Health Department to include on its website a consumer guide to assisted living centers and the services they provide, to help families and consumers make informed decisions related to assisted living options.  The measure also requires the Board of Health to write rules for posting the results of routine assisted living facility inspections on the website.

Vision screening:

HB-1462 by Trebilcock and Nichols allows the Department of Health’s vision screening advisory committee to also advise schools and organizations on sports eye safety practices.  Another bill, SB-964, makes other changes in the composition and role of the Health Department’s vision screening advisory committee.  That bill awaits the Governor’s signature.

Teachers of special education:

HB-1581 by Coody and Jolley requires that beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, Oklahoma colleges and universities that train special education, elementary and pre-school teachers must include the five elements of reading instruction in their training.  The elements are phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Teacher candidates shall be assessed on their knowledge of reading instruction prior to graduating with teaching degrees.

Special education; due process hearings:

HB-1763 by Enns and Jim Reynolds requires the State Department of Education to train due process hearing officers in special education laws and rules so they will be knowledgeable when hearing special education complaints.

Aging and disability:

HB-1893 by Peterson and Anderson creates the Aging and Disability Resource Consortium in the Aging Services Division of DHS to work collaboratively with other agencies to create a single-point-of-entry system for elderly and disabled persons who need information on long-term supports and options available to them.  The measure permits DHS to seek grants to fund the project.

VETOED  Health insurance:

HB-1975 by Moore and Bill Brown would have provided that bills increasing health insurance coverage could only be brought up in odd-numbered years in the Legislature, and only voted on in even-numbered years.  The measure also required that persons or groups advocating bills that would expand insurance coverage must provide the Legislature with actuarial studies on the possible impact of such expansions.  The governor vetoed this bill saying it unwisely and unduly restricts the state's ability to respond in a timely manner to critical issues.

Governor Henry’s veto message states ”By mandating that certain insurance legislation can only be introduced in odd-numbered years and approved in even-numbered years of a legislative session, HB 1975 inexplicably and unreasonably ties the hands of state policy makers on a very important issue. The bill further restricts the state’s ability to respond to emergencies by requiring a 75 percent super-majority vote to lift the odd-even year restriction during an emergency or other catastrophic event. This would empower a small minority of legislators to thwart legitimate state efforts to address a pressing public policy issue and ensure that the restriction would rarely, if ever, be lifted.

“Furthermore, because HB 1975 applies these restrictions only to legislation involving a single issue, it raises legitimate concerns and questions regarding why one subject area would be singled out for special treatment and is constitutionally infirm. Oklahoma and its citizens are better served when policy makers are allowed the freedom to address any pressing issue in the Legislature without the hindrance of arbitrary restrictions.” 

Senior citizens: HB-2030 by Steele and Coffee creates the Silver Alert system to help law enforcement locate missing senior citizens by quickly notifying the public of missing persons.

VETOED  Voting:

SB-4 by Ford and Tibbs required voters to present proof of identity at the polls in the form of an official photo identification card issued by federal or state government or an Indian Tribe.  The bill also allowed voters presenting their county voter ID to be exempt from the photo ID requirement.  The governor vetoed this bill, stating that Senate Bill 4 would have established an unnecessary impediment to exercising this most basic freedom in conflict with the Constitution.

In his veto message, governor Henry states, “The right to vote is among our most precious freedoms, guaranteed to all eligible U.S. citizens regardless of their race, gender, religion, income level or social status, and policymakers must be especially careful when tinkering with this fundamental right. By mandating new identification requirements, Senate Bill 4 would have established an unnecessary impediment to exercising this most basic freedom in conflict of Article III, Sec. 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution which states, “All elections shall be free and equal. No power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage, …” A small but still important minority of registered voters, many of whom are senior citizens or the working poor, do not have easy access to an official form of identification, and, therefore, could be discouraged from participating in the electoral process by the restrictions contained in SB 4.”

“Respected, non-partisan advocacy organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the American Association of Retired Persons oppose voter identification laws, citing projections that As many as 21 million eligible voters, including 78,000 in Oklahoma, do not have appropriate identifying credentials and could be negatively impacted by such legislation.”

SB-4 was of concern to some disability populations who, because they lack transportation and personal help, would encounter high transportation and personal assistance costs when trying to obtain an official state identification card for photo ID proof of identity.  The process currently used for initially obtaining this official non-driver identification involves the need for travel to driver license examiner sites and tag agents, and may require the person to hire help, as in the case of a person who is blind or paralyzed.

Health insurance:

SB-822 by Branan and Hickman creates the Task Force on the Review of Health Insurance Mandates.  The purpose of the task force is to review existing health insurance coverage that is mandated by state law and to recommend modifying or eliminating particular health coverage mandates.  Members of the task force will include persons appointed by the Speaker, Senate President Pro-Tempore and Governor, and would represent health insurers, medical providers, HMO’s, businesses and a health advocacy organization.

Information accessibility:

SB-871 by Russell and Enns modifies membership of the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Advisory Council.

Volunteer medical services:

HB-2093 (Kirby; Crain) Amends the Volunteer Medical Professional Services Immunity Act.  Clarifies that certain persons or entities are immune from civil liability when they are providing professional medical services in emergency or disaster situations and are authorized to do so by the appropriate governmental entity.

Nursing homes:

SB-541 (Ellis; Dank) Modifies application fees for long-term care facility certificates of need.  Provides that fees will be returned if the application is denied.  Signed by the Governor 4-28-09.

State Legislation in Process

Heath care:HB-2026 (Steele; Crain)  Creating the Health Care for Business Enterprise Program

HB-1074 (Cooksey; Sykes) removes the requirement that Corrections canteen employees be state employees.  Although the bill makes no direct reference to the Randolph-Sheppard Program, it could either help or harm business opportunities for blind vendors, depending on how it is implemented.  The bill passed both houses, but it has gone to a conference committee.  Appointees on the committee are Cooksey, Terrill, Banz, Liebmann, Duncan, Brannon, Roan, Renegar, and Tibbs of the House and the GCCA members of the Senate.  SB-803 has the same language as HB-1074 and is also by Sykes and Cooksey.  It has passed both houses and was sent to the Governor on 5-6-09. 

Medically unstable persons in law enforcement situations:

HB-1616 (Sullivan; Crain)  Clarifies how a law officer is to handle a person who is medically unstable.  The bill is in conference committee.  Conferees are Crain, Jolley, Newberry, Halligan, Nichols, and Gumm of the Senate and Sullivan, Peters, Duncan, Kiesel, and Trebilcock of the House.

Volunteer medical services:

HB-1678 (Ownbey; Paddack)  Addresses provision of volunteer medical services by medical professionals.  This bill is going to conference.  The House has appointed Ownbey, Nelson, Osborn, Shumate, Buck, and Sullivan as conferees.

State office of Information Services:

State agencies will be affected by HB-1704 and SB-980, bills that establish a separate state agency to centralize computer-based information systems, information technology and all financial and management information services across all state agencies.  The final version of this legislation will be decided by a conference committee.  House conferees appointed for HB-1704 are Derby, Murphey, Pittman, Nelson, Scott, Schwartz, Shannon, and Nations.  Senate conferees are Senate GCCA members.

Transition services for at-risk youth:

HB-1964 (Benge; Crain)  This bill adds transitional planning as a service to be provided to youth aging out of foster care.  The bill is in conference.   There is speculation the final bill could be modified to include creation of a transition task force for troubled or disadvantaged youth - a provision of an earlier bill that did not make it through the process.  Conferees are Benge, Steele, Peterson, Rousselot, and McDaniel (Jeannie) in the House and Senate GCCA members.

Official English:

HJR-1042 (Terrill; Sykes) Requiring a vote of the people on whether the State Constitution should be changed to require that all official actions of the State shall be conducted in English except as required by federal law.  No person would have a cause of action against an agency for failure to provide information or conduct business in any other language besides English.  Native American languages could still be used.  The state question does not maintain the protection for the use of sign language that appeared in some earlier bills on this subject.    

Health care; Tobacco Settlement Fund:

SB-267 (Crain; Cox)  Allows Tobacco Settlement funds to be spent on capital and operating expenses of the OU Health Sciences Center and the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.  The bill has been sent to the Governor.

Advanced directives:

SB-346 (Crain; Ritze)  Creates an advanced directive registry to be maintained by the Department of Health.  The bill is in conference committee.  Members are Ritze, Kern, Jones, Reynolds, Steele, Key, Proctor, Dorman, Miller, Carey, and Glenn of the House and Senate GCCA members.

Therapeutic recreation practice:

SB-546 (Halligan; Williams)  Establishing licensure of recreational therapists.  A conference committee has developed a final version of the bill which must now be voted up or down by the House and Senate.

Organ and tissue donation:

SB-622 (Coffee; Cox)  Creates the Oklahoma Uniform Anatomical Gift Act.  The measure addresses issues such as how a person can establish himself as an organ or tissue donor, how to revoke or change a decision related to organ donation, and who can make such decisions if the person is unable to do so.  An anatomical gift registry is created in the State Department of Health.  The bill was sent to the Governor on 5-4-09. 

Health information exchange and electronic medical records:

SB-757 (Burrage; Steele)  Creates the Oklahoma Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration to evaluate potential barriers to the exchange of electronic health information.  The bill is in a conference committee. 

Vision screening:

SB-964 (Paddack; Cox) This bill amends current law regarding the Health Department’s vision screening advisory committee.  It adjusts the membership of the committee, and adds a person from a statewide organization for the prevention of blindness.  The bill strengthens the role of the advisory group.  Where previously the Health Department was to establish standards for vision screening, now the committee would recommend vision screening and referral standards, qualifications for vision screeners, qualifications for vision screener trainers, and grounds for not recognizing trainers or screeners.    The bill was sent to the Governor on 5-6-09.

For Your Files: Find Your Federal and State Legislators: http://www.capitolconnect.com/oklahoma/

All U.S. Senators can be reached by calling 202-224-3121.

The U.S. House switchboard number is 202-225-3121.

For Information Contact Jean Jones DVR/DVS Legislative Information Representative Department of Rehabilitation Services 405-951-3488 jjones@okdrs.gov