Hundreds flood the Capitol in support of disability rights
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Hundreds flood the Capitol in support of disability rights

Date: March 9, 2011
By: Christi Warren
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 421 HB 411 SB 56

JEFFERSON CITY -  The public lined the staircases and the upper galleries; in the rotunda, every seat was filled. 

Advocates arrived in masses at the Capitol building Wednesday for a rally in support of legislation that will expand the rights given to Missouri's citizens with disabilities.

Among those speaking at the rally were Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.

They spoke amidst cheers and chants from a crowd calling for the extension of their civil rights, the end to institutionalization, and the appropriation of funds for disability services.

About the proposed legislation, Kinder said "all thumbs up on that."

One of the major pieces of legislation that disability rights advocates are trying to push through this session is a series of bills which will close Missouri's final six habilitation centers. Supporters say the habilitation centers do not provide adequate care, and isolate those with disabilities.

"The problem is, we're more concerned about programs than we are about people," Doug Riggs, appointee to the Missouri Planning Council and father to a son with Down's Syndrome, said. "If you want to be concerned about individuals with disabilities, then provide services. And provide them in community settings."

If the legislation is passed, Missouri would join a list of twelve other states that have already deemed habilitation centers nonessential.

Opposition to the legislation lies with constituents' fear that the same level of personal attention given to habilitation center patients will not be available to them in a community-based setting.

Kristal Lindstrom, secretary and treasurer of the Nevada Habilitation Center's parents association, and guardian to a former habilitation center patient, calls the bills "a very poor decision."

"Nobody is addressing the root issue," Lindstrom said. "The patients wouldn't be there in the first place if the services existed in the community. If they put them back in the community, many of these people are going to die."

House Bill 411, one of the bills in the group of legislation that propose to shut down the habilitation centers, was passed by the House Rules Committee, Wednesday.  The bill will be up for debate on the House floor.

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