2012 Legislative Report
There were two major pieces of 2012 legislation that were the focus our attention:
(1) House Bill 218 and Senate Bill 399 – Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights; and
(2) House Joint Resolution 49, House Bill 1291, Senate Joint Resolution 66, and Senate Bill 678 – Merger of Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH) with Virginia Department of Aging (VDA), Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (VDRS), Virginia Department for Blind and Vision Impaired (VDBVI), and Adult Protective Services into one central agency (a part of Governor’s Reorganization Plan).
Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights
HB 218 went through a couple of committees and was passed 98-2 in the House. SB 399 was referred to 2013 session due to opposition from public schools.
If the bill becomes law, it would update the quality of education and force public schools to overhaul deaf education programs.
There was a big show of opposition against the merger by VAD members, interpreters, advocates and friends. Some of us attended and spoke at regional state budget hearings in Fairfax and Lexington before the opening of the General Assembly in early January. The 2012 Coalition Rally sponsored by Statewide Interagency Team for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services brought some of us together in Richmond on January 16, 2012, to speak to some aides in their delegates and state senators’ offices. Gary Viall and Cheryl Heppner testified before the Senate Finance Committee members who later voted to remove VDDHH from SJ 66 with eight yeas and seven nays before it was reported to the full Senate. Three key points Gary emphasized were that VDDHH was the only voice of the deaf on the state level, the loss of deaf identity, and loss of specialized services.
The next day Gary and Cheryl returned to Richmond for the House Rules Committee meeting on HJ 49, but the committee did not give us a chance to testify against the VDDHH merger before it was adjourned. We followed HJ 49 and later HB 1291 through the session. VAD members and friends and the new VAD Coalition, which was comprised of 25 deaf/hard of hearing-related organizations, were encouraged to use emails to our state legislators and VRS relay to Governor’s office to oppose the VDDHH consolidation. One delegate later inserted VDBVI into HJ 49 and HB 1291 at the last minute. There was a deadlock between the House and the Senate. Three delegates and three state senators were selected to resolve their differences. Those delegates agreed to remove VDDHH and VDBVI from HJ 49 and HB 1291 on March 10th. As a result, VDDHH and VDBVI are kept as independent agencies under Human Services.
Of the three blind state-level organizations, both presidents of National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and Old Dominion Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired fought hard against the insertion of VDBVI in the merger. They have mentioned they want to work with us for any future common cause.
Appreciation goes to the following people who went to Richmond: Rachel Bavister, Janice Dillman, Wayne and Alice Frick, Byron Heath, Cheryl Heppner, Richard Goode, Helen Justice, Jill Moebus, and to those who emailed or used VRS or sent letters to the state legislators.
The Legislation Committee members are Rachel Bavister, Tom Dowling, Alice & Wayne Frick, Feta Fernsler, Richard Goode, LaDonna Larsen, Gary Viall, and Steve Williams.