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Disability Rights Ohio Says Budget Amendment Threatens Advocacy Work

Disability Rights Ohio is lobbying against a budget amendment that would create a joint legislative oversight committee to review the nonprofit every two years. [Disability Rights Ohio]
Disability Rights Ohio

Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) is raising alarm bells over an amendment to the state’s biennial budget bill that would create a joint legislative oversight committee to review the nonprofit every two years.

The group does not receive state funding and calls the prospect of state oversight “unprecedented” and “harmful.”

DRO gets funding from the federal government and operates as a federally authorized protection and advocacy program, according to Executive Director Kerstin Sjoberg, who explained how the process allows DRO to operate independently from the state as it advocates for people with developmental disabilities.

Part of the group’s work is going into intermediate care facilities and speaking privately with people with developmental disabilities about their rights, Sjoberg said.

“It’s also to make sure that there aren’t complaints about abuse or neglect or that we’re not observing significant conditions and issues,” said Sjoberg. “And we do often find those kinds of problems when we go in and do monitoring.” 

DRO says state Sen. Mark Romanchuk, who wrote the Protection and Advocacy Transparency Amendment, wants to establish a joint legislative oversight committee because he doesn’t think the group should be talking to people with developmental disabilities without guardians present. 

But state Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario), said he wrote the Protection and Advocacy Transparency Amendment on behalf of worried parents and guardians.

“I have heard the concerns of parents and guardians who have raised questions about the process to remove their loved ones from an Intermediate Care Facility without being consulted. Families need to know their voice matters. That is what we are providing, a way to make sure their voices are heard,” Romanchuk said in an email to ideastream.

The intermediate care facilities DRO visits are licensed by the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and must meet the state’s required standards, but the watchdog group operates independently.

DRO is lobbying to get the amendment removed from the state budget and is hoping “to get the attention” of joint committee members, or alternatively, to have Gov. Mike DeWine “line-item veto it.”

“What we can’t have is someone who disagrees with the type of work we should be doing put together an oversight committee to probe into our activities and interfere with our ability to do our job,” Sjoberg said, warning that if the amendment stands, “we may even have an impression by people with disabilities that we’re no longer fully independent advocates and they may be concerned about coming to us with their problems now.”

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”