An Interview with Catherine Strode
State Senator Bob Gardner (Senate District 12) has a long legislative history of sponsoring bills that support the rights and interests of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. He is currently the sponsor of Senate Bill 174, a bill that brings Colorado law into alignment with federal law protecting the rights of individuals living in group homes and other residential settings.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Senator Gardner says Senate Bill 174 is part of an ongoing bipartisan effort in Colorado to maintain equal rights for all state citizens.
Do you consider this bill a human rights issue for people with developmental disabilities?
“Yes. You can look at it that way, as a human rights issue. I thought of it as an issue of rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our Colorado statute originally read that they would not be extended the rights of a tenant. The statute reads, ‘No real property rights shall accrue to a person with a developmental disability by virtue of placement in a residential setting.’ The practical effect of that is that they don’t have rights against eviction, in the same way that any other tenant would be. That is what the statute said. This bill, in those two lines, strikes that language. Now, people with IDD have the same tenant rights even in a group home setting, as any other residential tenant would.”
Why did the law originally not provide them with property rights in residential settings?
“Many years ago there was a lot of debate around whether those in residential settings and group homes would be treated as tenants or have some other status. Right now, the Colorado statute says that they don’t have that kind of right. Federal law has changed over the years. What has happened is federal law and regulations have made it very clear that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in group home settings have to have, and should have, the rights of a tenant in terms of evictions. In order to comply with federal law, and Medicaid, and other grants, Colorado was required to ensure that people with IDD had the same rights as other tenants did. There has been a lot of development in the rights of those who are in group home settings and in residential settings to ensure they have the same rights that others do in our society. We were out of step with development of the federal law which has evolved over time. The bill was to bring Colorado statute into line with current federal law. This is kind of a catch up provision.”
Does the bill also add service providers to Colorado law?
“There are two things going on in this bill. The second part of this bill is a matter of bringing our statute in line with the rest of our statutes. While we were doing the bill, the community realized we had not made some changes in terms of who was providing services, case management agencies versus community center boards, and all of that definition is in the change. It adds case management agencies, case managers, as one of the other entities that might be a manager of services for people in a group home. Part of the bill conforms our changes in the law with the residential settings legislation.”
Why did the bill expand to include case management agencies as service providers?
“This was a section of the law that had not picked up the change from conflict free case management. That had happened in other parts of the statute. That piece is a cleanup of the references because those changes have already taken place. The statute itself was out of step with the rest of Colorado law. As we tried to bring the law into line with current federal law, the bill pointed up other things in the statute we hadn’t caught up with, with our own changes. Every year in the state of Colorado we have laws that revise our statutes in non-substantive ways to simply change language and add certain things that have happened in other sections of the law. That’s part of what this bill is about.”
How is this bill more than a technical legislative ‘cleanup’?
“The first part does have more importance: the residential rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A lot of things have gone into statute 30 and 40 years ago. In this case, they were not afforded the same rights in terms of their group home tenancies that regular tenants would be. This brings us forward. It recognizes what we all believe ought to be the law, brings us in line with federal law. It is part of an ongoing process to ensure people with disabilities have the same rights as other citizens.”
Does this bill still define you as a champion of rights for people with developmental disabilities?
“I like to think so. One of the things about being a champion of those rights is like this bill. There’s something here that’s pretty important; and there’s something that’s just the regular every day work, making sure we are getting it right.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy 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.