TODAY! VA Senators will be discussing Senate Bill 689 when they meet at 2 pm. The bill would limit the legal rights of people with disabilities who are represented by the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA). This is a dangerous bill that will take away the civil rights of people with developmental and other disabilities.
This bill threatens our right to have an independent Virginia Office on Protection and Advocacy that can file lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and other federal disability rights laws.
Today, please contact your Virginia Senators. We need to stop this bill! You’ll find contact information, background on the bill, and what to say here.
SB 689 will require any person with a disability who wishes to litigate through VOPA to first hire a mediator or arbitrator before going to court–even if futile or an urgent matter. And instead of letting the client decide whether to litigate, SB689 will give that decision to VOPA’s Board, who are politically appointed. This means the decision to litigate may become purely political.
Under the current law, VOPA can file a lawsuit on behalf of a person with a disability. For example, if Virginians with disabilities were abused and neglected, VOPA could take action, investigate, and pursue the case in court.
But SB 689 would change all of that. It would require every person with a disability to first hire a mediator or arbitrator before going to court. The Virginian with the disability would have to pay for that if the mediator wasn’t offered for free. The person would have to hire the mediator and go to mediation even if the opposing side would not agree to mediation, and even if the matter were urgent and they needed to go to court immediately.
Then, if the person wanted to sue, SB 689 would no longer let him/her make the decision. Instead, under SB 689, the VOPA Board would decide. If the Board did not approve the request, the Virginian with the disability could not sue through VOPA–no matter how bad the harm or danger they were in. Most people with developmental and other disabilities don’t have the money to hire their own attorneys. Representation by the P&A can be crucial.
All VOPA board members are politically appointed. So, SB 689 will make the decision about whether to litigate purely political.
Contacting the VA Senate
SB 689 is before the Senate Committee on General Laws on Wednesday, January 27th. You can contact the following.
If you are not sure what to say, use the information in the first two paragraphs above. If you are a parent, friend, family member, colleague, advocate, or other interested person, say that in your call/email.
Please make a call if you can! If you need to send email, that’s okay, but calling the office is important because the bill is being heard on Wednesday. Below are the Committee members, their emails, the major town or city they represent, and their Richmond phone number. The cities provided are only where their local offices are. If you know one of them is your Senator, please call or email.
The patron of SB 689 is Senator Blevins firstname.lastname@example.org (Chesapeake, (804) 698-7514)
Senator John Miller is also a supporter of the bill email@example.com (Newport News, (804) 698-7501)
Members of the committee on General Laws are:
Senator Mamie Locke (chair) firstname.lastname@example.org (Hampton, (804) 698-7502)
Senator Chap Peterson email@example.com (Fairfax, (804) 698-7534)
Senator George Barker firstname.lastname@example.org (Alexandria, (804) 698-7539)
Senator David Marsden email@example.com (Burke, (804) 698-1041)
Senator Charles Colgan firstname.lastname@example.org (Manassas, phone 804-698-7529)
Senator Edward Houck email@example.com (Spotsylvania, (804) 698-7517)
Senator William Wampler firstname.lastname@example.org (Bristol (804) 698-7540)
Senator Walter Stosch email@example.com (Glen Allen, (804) 698-7512)
Senator Stephen Martin firstname.lastname@example.org (Chesterfield, (804) 698-7511)
Senator Frank Ruff email@example.com (Clarksville, (804) 698-7515)
Senator Frank Wagner firstname.lastname@example.org (Virginia Beach, (804) 698-7507)
Senator Mark Herring email@example.com (Leesburg, (804) 698-7533)
Senator Robert Hurt firstname.lastname@example.org (Chatham, (804) 698-7519)
Senator Jill Vogel email@example.com (Winchester, (804) 698-7527)
Senator John Miller firstname.lastname@example.org (Newport News, (804) 698-7501)