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Disability advocates asking Gov. Gregoire to drop court appeal

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Sep. 7, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
September 7, 2012 8:00 pm

Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for extra time to consider an appeal of a 9th Circuit Court ruling in a case that has growing interest for disability activists in Washington and across the country. The case deals with across-the-board budget cuts the Democrat ordered in 2010.

The spending cuts resulted in fewer hours of homecare assistance with washing, laundry, cooking and other chores for some Medicaid clients.

A lawsuit on behalf of a dozen disabled people and eight elderly people sought a restoration of services considered key to helping clients living on their own and outside of institutional care. It is one of several suits filed over state efforts in recent years to reduce spending on human services – including at least two by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state in May, and this story talks a bit about the court’s finding that the cuts violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.

In a motion filed Thursday, Attorney General Rob McKenna’s lawyers asked for a new Oct. 1 deadline for an appeal. Gregoire’s spokeswoman Karina Shagren said the request for an extension does not mean Gregoire will ask McKenna to actually follow through with an appeal.

Shagren said Gregoire’s legal advisers were still looking at options, including weighing what larger impacts an appeal could have.

The People First of Washington, a disability rights group, plans a protest outside Gregoire’s offices at the Legislative Building on Saturday afternoon.

“We just want to see them settle the case and be done instead of appealing,’’ said John Lemus, a developmentally disabled activist and state board president for People First who lives in Spokane.

Lemus spoke to The Olympian early Friday evening. He said he hopes at least two dozen of the 175 People First members in the capital city for a convention this week can join their event at 3:15 p.m. Saturday. He said they have a letter to be signed by group members to give Gregoire, but they may  hand their own new letter to a State Patrol trooper if no one in the Governor’s Office is available.

State and national advocacy groups already sent a pair of letters to Gregoire late last month, urging her to drop the appeal. But the letters aimed their requests at far more than the services being cut.

The advocates say an appeal, or petition for certiorari, could actually open the door to the U.S. Supreme Court taking a broader look at disability issues – and ultimately acting to weaken its landmark 1999 ruling in a case known as Olmstead.

Olmstead, which grew out of a Georgia case, enshrined the right of disabled people to receive services in a less restrictive setting than institutions – often with home-care help to make their in-home set-ups workable. Advocates say Olmstead did for the disabled what the court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling did for civil rights in 1954.

A letter from 33 national groups – including the American Association of People With Disabilities, Brain Injury Association of America, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, Disability Rights Legal Center, Easter Seals, Joseph F. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, National Council on Independent Living and National Federation of the Blind – urges Gregoire to drop the case, explaining:

“While Washington may intent to craft narrow arguments that it believes will not place Olmstead in jeopardy, the state will have little control over what the Supreme Court says concerning the ADA’s integration mandate [for non-institutional care]. Seeking certiorari [review by the court] could result in a ruling that significantly diminishes the right of people with disabilities to live in integrated settings and be full participants in their communities. You have been an important leader on disability issues, and we assume that you would not wish to set that in motion.’’

Another letter from 23 state groups – including Addus HealthCare, The Arc of Tri-Cities, Association of Centers for Independent Living-Washington, Disability Rights Washington, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Greater Northwest Chapter, People First of Washington, Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities, and others – carries a similar warning about the high court:

In recent years, the Supreme Court has become increasingly restrictive in its view of Congressional power to protect the most vulnerable Americans and has repeatedly reached out to decide questions affecting individuals’ rights that it need not have addressed.

But Janelle Guthrie, a deputy for the attorney general, said their legal staffers do not believe the court needs to revisit Olmstead or alter it in order to rule against the 9th Circuit Court ruling that blocked Gregoire’s across-the-board cuts.

Once again, stay tuned.

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