An Interview with Catherine Strode
State legislators have the opportunity to offer protection from abuse to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The House has passed a bill (HB17-1284) to create a state data system of past offenders. The bill now moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State Senator Irene Aguilar, the parent of an adult child with disabilities, is one of the bill’s sponsors. In an interview with Catherine Strode, she explains why this bill is one of the most important of the legislative Session for individuals with disabilities and why it is so long overdue.
What is this bill important to folks with IDD?
“I think the statistics about how often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are abused are really frightening. As parents looking for caregivers, we need all the help we can get to identify people who would not be good at working with a vulnerable population. I see this bill as helping to create another tool to ensure that in facilities where we know there are disproportionate numbers of people at risk, they are required to look up and ensure that the person they are hiring does not have a history of abuse. I think this is so important because it is something we’ve been after for a long time.”
Why has this bill taken so long to come forward?
“A few years ago, then Senator Evie Hudak ran a bill at the request of Attorney General John Suthers to provide protections for elderly people, who are also vulnerable. At that time, the issue was brought up about adding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. But the finance bill on that was so high they didn’t feel they had the bandwidth to cover everyone. People with disabilities were put on the back burner to wait their turn, if you will. The limiting force has been cost: in having the funds to create the program and the willingness to protect those funds as other priorities came forward. There’s also concern about liability on the part of employers. The concern is both for potentially reporting something before it has been fully adjudicated and for acting on information that is then found to be false. Obviously, the impact on the individual’s life on being on a list like this, or trying to get a job and having a false listing, is dramatic. It requires a high level of integrity. It has scared some people away from trying to tackle this issue.”
How would the data system CAPS (Colorado Adult Protective Services) work?
“People who have been adjudicated to have mistreated vulnerable adults would have their name and information listed in CAPS. Then people who are hiring for specified governmental and government-related entities would be required to check that system for people they are considering hiring to make sure they are not in the system. It will probably be fee based. The hiring folks would pay $16 to the state to get a report back, limited to the adult protective services database, of people identified as being at risk of abusing adults with disabilities.”
Why do you think the bill can survive this time around?
“There were multiple versions of this bill before this one was introduced. Some of it was negotiating between what was in the bill and how much it would cost to do it. It is a significant fiscal note, about $650,000. Initially, the fiscal note was in the millions. I think they did a great job of finding a point where we could at least start this process and, hopefully, build on it as time goes forward. Another thing is of note, one group that sometimes is vulnerable and gets services paid for by the government are those getting Consumer Attendant Support Services. There was concern on the part of people who get CDAS that this might have an unintended consequence, or, chilling effect on them in some of their hiring. They ended up compromising and making this optional for those folks. If they’d like to get this data, they can. If they don’t want to be part of the system, they don’t have to.”
With the price tag, can it pass under the state’s budget restraints?
“We are under the impression that we finally have the political will to allocate the resources to this important role. There are many things on the table that I do not think have the bipartisan support to get the funding they need. This (bill) does have that support. The Department of Human Services has prioritized this to have a placeholder for funds. We will have to see what happens with the ongoing and intense budget negotiations. Presuming that those do continue to move forward the way we are hopeful they will be, we do anticipate this bill being funded.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Policy Outreach Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.