April 21, 2005

Greetings to Friends and Supporters of the Arizona Center for Disability Law

        Thank you for the opportunity to share information with you about some of the great work the Arizona Center for Disability Law does each and every day.  If you would prefer to opt out of our email list, let us know and this will be the only e-mail you will receive from us.  If you have ideas for updates or issues you would like us to address, please let me know.  You can reach me at lcohen@acdl.com.

        I am happy to report that Center staff continue to make progress on many fronts on behalf of individuals with disabilities.  Here is a brief report on some of our many recent accomplishments.

Center Celebrates 10 Years of Protection and Advocacy

        In 1995,  the ACDL became its own stand alone non profit public interest law firm assisting Arizonans with disabilities in asserting their legal and civil rights.   In the last 10 years, the ACDL has grown from 22 staff to 39 staff members statewide with a budget of 2.8 million dollars.  In the last year, the ACDL assisted over 1,900 people with disabilities on individual cases, provided information on legal rights to another 2,500 Arizonans and impacted the lives of thousands more through our class action litigation and policy work.

        This year, the Center will host two celebrations to honor our own achievements over the last 10 years, one in Tucson on May 4 and a larger event in Phoenix in the fall.  The May 4 Tucson event will take place at Cafe 54, 54 Pennington Street from 4:30 - 6:30 p.m.  A copy of the invitation is attached.  Please join us in celebrating our work over the last decade.

2005 State Legislature

        As I reported to you in February, our staff is hard at work to make sure the legislature creates positive policy initiatives for people with disabilities.  Again, I would remind you to visit one of our coalition partners, the Governor's Council on Development Disabilities, at www.azgcdd.org and click on public policy updates to find the most comprehensive summary and status of bills of interest to individuals with disabilities.

Senate Bill 1300: Voting Rights and Limited Guardianship - failed to pass. Senator John Huppenthal (R-20) is the primary sponsor.  This bill would make positive changes to voting rights and guardianship laws to allow the Court to decide, when assessing an individual's capacity, whether an individual may retain the right to vote while under a limited guardianship.  I am happy to report that the full Senate unanimously approved this legislation on March 3.  The House Government Reform and Financial Accountability Committee unanimously approved this bill on March 31.  The bill was also referred to the House Judiciary Committee.  Committee Chair Eddie Farnsworth (R-22) would not hear the bill in his Committee.  Our staff worked hard to find a striker vehicle to keep the measure moving forward this session.  SB 1186 was amended in the House Ways and Means Committee on April 4 to include SB 1300 as well as another voter registration bill; however, the Rules Committee would not recommend the amendment to the striker because of single subject matter concerns.  As you may know, SB 1300 amended 3 titles: Title 14, Guardianship; Title 16, Elections; and Title 41, State Department of Veteran Affairs Guardianship. 

House Bill 2534: Special Education; Dispute Resolution - active.  Representative Laura Knaperek (R-17) is the primary sponsor.  This bill would make positive changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) due process rules that govern special education students in Arizona.  Currently, Arizona has a two-tier dispute resolution system that involves an initial hearing at the local educational agency, with an appeal to the Arizona Department of Education, after which an aggrieved party may file suit in Court.  The legislation moves Arizona to a one-tier system using Administrative Law Judges at the Office of Administrative Hearings, after which parties may proceed directly to Court.  This bill received some opposition in the House from the Arizona School Risk Retention Trust (insurers to school districts) but the legislation passed the House with a 42-17 vote at the end of February.  Since then, the Center has met with representatives from the Trust and have worked to craft an amendment that addresses some Trust issues while keeping the intent and integrity of the new one-tier system.  As a result, the bill passed the Senate K-12 Committee on March 23 and the full Senate on April 12 unanimously.

AIMS Legislation - active.   As you know, the Center has been supportive of policy changes that remove the AIMS graduation requirement for all children, not just children with disabilities.  Numerous bills were introduced this session that dealt with AIMS; however, the Center focused our attention on SB 1069 (sponsored by Senator Verschoor (R-22)) and HB 2294 (sponsored by Representative Andy Biggs (R-22)).  Both bills remove the graduation requirement from AIMS for all students. SB 1069 received a do pass recommendation from the Senate K-12 Committee.  HB 2294 became a striker-amendment in the House on SB 1038.  SB 1038 passed the House of Representatives 38-16 on April 4.  SB 1038 now heads back to the Senate.  Senate leadership continues to oppose both bills.

In the meantime, SB 1352, sponsored by Senator Toni Hellon (R-26) is moving forward and will likely make it to the Governor.  SB 1352 prohibits the use of AIMS as a graduation requirement for children with disabilities, children who receive special education services and have an IEP and children with 504 plans if certain requirements are met.  This bill unanimously passed the Senate March 10 and will be voted on by the House early in April.

ACDL Provides Comprehensive Legal Assistance to Individuals with Mental Illness or Behavioral Health Problems
                                                                               
        The Center's work in mental health is probably known more widely for our groundbreaking class action lawsuits: Arnold v. Sarn and J.K. v. Eden.  But the Center works everyday with individuals with mental illness on a myriad of problems that often require assistance from our attorneys and advocates in areas ranging from housing to employment to special education.  I wanted to share with you some of the recent successes we have had in representing individuals with mental illness outside of our class action work.

       
Mental Health Team
        Staff Advocate Margaret DuMouchel was successful in assisting a family who's child was not getting the services she needed from Value Options (VO) in Maricopa County.  The child had been released from the hospital with prescriptions for psychotropic medications, the cost of which VO had refused to completely cover. The family could not afford to pay for the medications and the child would regress without intervention.  Margaret filed two appeals on her behalf.  Both appeals resolved before hearing, with VO agreeing to reimburse the parent for the medication she had privately paid for and to authorize a second needed medication.  The Center was able to resolve the medication issue and ensure that this child now has every opportunity to recover from her illness.             

        In another case, Staff Attorney Cheryl Koch-Martinez successfully assisted a client who was in Section 8 housing in an apartment in Phoenix and who had received an eviction notice for non-payment of rent in early December 2003.  The client reported the notice to his case manager, who initially told him that she could not help him, but some time later decided to try to work something out with the client's apartment manager.  Unfortunately, by that time, the client had received a notice for an eviction hearing.  While the case manager was negotiating with the apartment manager, and before anything had been finalized, she advised the client not to go to his eviction hearing.  Relying on that advice, the client did not go and was forced to leave his apartment on very short notice, which meant that he had to leave many of his possessions in the apartment.  The client was then admitted into the hospital for medical and psychiatric reasons that same day, and was never able to retrieve his possessions.  The case manager never made any attempts to secure them during that time.  Cheryl successfully intervened and obtained the following in a settlement with VO: (1) flex funds to obtain a WalMart card in the amount of $514.67, to purchase basic items; (2) payment of $252.00 for carpet cleaning; (3) payment of a $689.75 bill related to the eviction; (4) payment to the client in the amount of $5,000; and (6) measures at VO to prevent this situation from happening to other individuals in the future.

Special Education Team

        Managing attorney, Jerri Katzerman obtained compensatory educational services for a child with emotional and learning disability as well as a visual impairment.  The child enrolled with a Phoenix area school district in August 2004 and in October 2004, the school district learned that the child had been involved in off-campus criminal conduct occurring in the home, sixteen months earlier, before the student was enrolled in the district, while being served under the auspices of an individual education program that failed to identify his primary disabling condition.  Upon learning of the incident, the district moved for expulsion and immediately imposed a long-term suspension pending expulsion.  The Center requested a due process hearing.  The Hearing Officer ruled that the district's manifestation determination was erroneous because the district failed to consider the impact of the previously undiagnosed disability on the student's behavior.  The Hearing Officer also agreed that the district's evaluation and behavioral assessment were inappropriate and ordered that the parents be provided with independent testing at public expense.  The Hearing Officer found that the student was the prevailing party and entitled to compensatory educational services.

Abuse and Neglect
        The mental health staff worked tirelessly over the last two years to bring improvements to a juvenile residential treatment facility in Southeastern Arizona.  Allegations of physical abuse, treatment failures, seclusion and restraint violations, as well as violations of federal accessibility laws were just a few of the many problems that led the Center to conduct our own investigation into the policies and practices of this facility.  State regulators had been monitoring this facility for several years but despite reoccurring violations of personal rights and liberties, regulators failed bring about any changes to the facility.  The Center intervened, conducted an investigation, released our own findings, and was able to convince state regulators to stiffen the penalties assessed against this facility.  The state suspended admissions for all new patients directly supported by state funds pending the corrections of the deficiencies and the local regional behavioral health agency, Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, followed suit.  With new admissions halted, the facility was forced to change their policies and practices.  Center staff conducted a follow-up site visit recently and were pleased to find substantial improvements, including major changes at the local management level.

Tentative Settlement Reached in Tucson Paratransit Lawsuit
                       
        The Center filed a class action lawsuit in federal court regarding the City of Tucson's violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act's paratransit requirements.  The law requires public entities who operate a fixed route system to provide paratransit to individuals with disabilities that is comparable to the level of service provided to individuals without disabilities who use the fixed route system.  In Tucson, the fixed route system is operated by Sun Tran and the paratransit system is operated by Van Tran. 

        The lawsuit alleges that the City is violating the ADA by: 1) denying approximately 14,000 requests for paratransit rides each year; 2) denying requests for next-day paratransit service; 3) picking up paratransit riders significantly too early or too late on a substantial number of occasions; 4) providing a substantial number of paratransit rides with excessive trip lengths; and 5) refusing to schedule paratransit rides at the time of request.  Center staff and City representatives made great strides in rectifying the problems and moving to create a system where persons with disabilities who rely on paratransit services to get to the doctor, to work or to shop will have adequate services.  I am happy to report that we have reached a tentative settlement in this case and are awaiting the scheduling of a fairness hearing so that the federal court may review and approve the terms of the settlement.

Upcoming Trainings

        The Center has posted our second quarter trainings on our web site.  Please visit http://www.acdl.com/training.html for the complete list.  Below is a sample of our many upcoming trainings.  Please be sure to contact the Center to reserve your space if you are interested in attending any of these events.

                                       
April Highlights
How to Take Steps to Fight Disability Discrimination at Work
Thursday April 21, 2005
12:00 pm -2:00 p.m.
3839 N. Third Street, Suite 209
Phoenix, Arizona 85012
(Staff attorney answers your questions about the informal and formal steps to try and correct a problem of discrimination. The discussion will include negotiation with employers, how to file a complaint of discrimination and understand the investigation process of the EEOC and Attorney General's office and lawsuits)

Contact: Anabel Reyes, (520) 327-9547 or
outside of Tucson, 1-800-922-1447
email: areyes@acdl.com

*This training is subject to cancellation unless a minimum of 5 people sign up for the training. Please call to confirm the business day before the training. Free pizza provided.

Special Education Training for Parents (Spanish)
Monday April 25, 2005
10:00 am 12:00 p.m.
Southeastern Arizona Behavior Health Services
(SEABHS)
32 Blvd. Del Rey David
Nogales, Arizona
Contact: Claudia (520) 281-9189
*This training is subject to cancellation unless a minimum of 4 people register for the training.

May Highlights
Your Rights as a Vocational Rehabilitation Client
Monday May 16, 2005
4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
100 N. Stone Avenue, Suite 305
Tucson, Arizona 85701
Contact: Anabel Reyes, (520) 327-9547 or
outside of Tucson, 1-800-922-1447
email:
areyes@acdl.com
*This training is subject to cancellation unless a minimum of 5 people register for the training.


June Highlights
Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities in Arizona
Wednesday June 1, 2005
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
CPSA Training Center
2502 N. Dodge Blvd.
Tucson, Arizona
RSVP by calling the CPSA Training Line at (520) 318-6950 ext. 3000
Or contact: Claudia Sandoval at (520) 327-9547,
outside of Tucson 1800-922-1447, email: csandoval@acdl.com
This training will provide an overview of the services and mandates of the Arizona Center for Disability Law. The presentation will focus primarily on mental health advocacy.

An Overview of the IDEA Act of 2004
Friday, June 24, 2005, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Flagstaff Medical Center / McGee Auditorium
1200 N. Beaver Street
Flagstaff, Arizona
Contact: (602) 2746287 or
outside of Phoenix, 18009272260
email: riacovelli@acdl.com
* Space is limited and advanced registration is required.

Leslie J. Cohen
Executive Director
Arizona Center for Disability Law
April 2005

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