By Guest Author: State Representative Elliott Naishtat
Re-published with permission from Elliott Naishtat
In 2004, State Representative Elliott Naishtat wrote an Op Ed in response to the stance taken by Greg Abbott against disabled Texans. Never has this Op Ed been more timely, or more important.
- Just when we thought Texas could stoop no lower in its treatment of our most vulnerable citizens, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott proves us wrong. In an attempt to preclude the state from having to provide services to persons with disabilities — services they are entitled to under the Americans With Disabilities Act — Abbott is claiming the ADA is unconstitutional and that states cannot be required to comply with it.
Signed into law in 1990 by the first President Bush, the ADA prohibits discrimination based on a person’s disability. Considered the most comprehensive legislation for people with disabilities ever passed in this country, the ADA lays a foundation of equality for disabled persons and extends to them civil rights similar to those made available on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin and religion through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Accordingly, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in private-sector employment, state and local government activities, and public accommodations and services.
Title II of the ADA stipulates that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity. This is the section of the act that our attorney general seeks to overturn.
Texans should be appalled at the lengths our state’s top legal defender will go to keep the state from having to provide people with disabilities access to services in compliance with this federal law.
Abbott took this stance in response to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2002 on behalf of more than 25,000 individuals with disabilities who have been languishing, many for years, on waiting lists to receive home or community-based services. The class action alleges that the state violates the ADA by not adequately funding services to people with disabilities, resulting in many of these individuals being forced to live in institutional settings, often against their will and best interests. If Abbott has his way, the state will no longer be required to comprehensively address the needs of the disability community.
This year, facing a $10 billion shortfall and in the name of no new taxes, the Texas Legislature passed a budget with deep cuts to programs serving children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Budget cuts and policy decisions that were made guarantee that fewer people in need will receive crucial health and human services, and waiting lists will continue to grow. Now Abbott wants to go one step further and take away civil rights protections that were signed into law at the largest bill signing ceremony ever held on the White House lawn. Abbott’s approach of shirking the state’s responsibility to provide access to services for all citizens is not only wrong, it sends a strong message to individuals with disabilities: You do not deserve the same rights as everyone else. I do not believe this is the message most Texans would like delivered.
What is perplexing is that the attorney general is not challenging the part of the ADA that bars discrimination by private interests. In other words, Abbott agrees that private entities should continue to be required by law to provide access to individuals with disabilities, but public entities, including state and local governments, should not. Since when are civil rights protections important in relation to the private sector, but not the public sector? Abbott’s response: The office of the attorney general is trying to protect the state’s interests, namely, its limited financial resources. Once again, the issue is state money, or the lack thereof.
If Abbott prevails in his attempt to exclude state governments from having to comply with Title II of the ADA, areas other than waiting lists for people with disabilities in need of home and community-based services could be impacted. For example, Title II could no longer be used to force modifications of governmental buildings and facilities so that they are accessible to people with disabilities. But for the ADA, how many public schools, university classrooms and laboratories, public restrooms, libraries, museums, city halls, buses, trains, courthouses and capitols would still be inaccessible to persons with disabilities?
Rather than facing up to the state’s responsibility to provide access to people with disabilities per federal law, rather than striving to generate new revenues to help cover the costs, our leadership seeks to dismantle the very legislation that mandates the above. The attorney general’s is a blatant attempt to reinstate discrimination as yet another way to avoid the state’s obligation to provide services to its most vulnerable members of society. Texans should be embarrassed that one of our statewide elected leaders would stoop so low.