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A nonprofit watchdog campaigning for the rights of Ohioans with disabilities is concerned about a Senate budget proposal to step up oversight of its own activities.
Disability Rights Ohio has been the state protection and advocacy system since 2012, whose task it is to monitor the care of people with disabilities and to educate them about their personal rights.
All 50 states have named groups designed to provide independent reviews of the public utility system. A proposal to put legislative oversight over the Ohio Group has made its leaders fear that the change would have a “chilling effect” on their work.
The state senator who pushed for the change said it was in the best interests of Ohioans with disabilities.
Legal work has legal guardians
DRO is financed exclusively by federal grants and does not receive any government funding, said managing director Kerstin Sjoberg. While the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities is the primary oversight of intermediate care facilities, Sjoberg said DRO is meant to be “a control of sorts.”
Social workers with DRO make visits to care facilities across Ohio and meet with individuals to share information about their protected rights and learn how things are going. The organization tries to stand up for those who may have problems such as abuse or neglect.
These private interactions involve Senator Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario. They are held, at least initially, without the presence of a legal guardian.
Senator Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario
Sjoberg defended this practice as necessary for confidentiality and legal reasons, but Romanchuk described Listening to complaints from legal guardians who want to be more involved in the process.
DRO tries to be transparent by informing care facilities in advance of their visits, Sjoberg said, noting that nobody needs to speak to its supporters. The organization is not a supervisory authority, meaning it cannot force changes to these facilities – Sjoberg said lawyers are trying to hear about problems and working with staff and guardians to find solutions.
She believes that the organization is being attacked unjustly because it does not receive government funding to carry out its work.
“It’s amazing that state lawmakers want to spend their time on it,” she said.
The proposal was not included in either DeWine’s initial budget introduction or the Ohio House of Representatives budget version earlier this year.
The members of the two legislative chambers now settle the differences between their respective bills. For this change in supervision to take effect, the House would also have to approve it.
Sjoberg said her organization is campaigning for these budget negotiators to remove the provision or for the governor to veto the provision if it reaches his desk.
The Legislature in the “Conference Committee” is working to pass a final draft budget before the new fiscal year from July 1st.
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