by Jeff Thom Let's start with the federal scene, and then turn to California. If anyone has a crystal ball to give us an idea as to what a Trump Administration and a Republican Congress will mean for persons with vision impairments, I'd sure like him/her to let me know. It can be argued that, as a small minority that has issues that both parties can identify with, we may be better positioned to make some positive changes. It may just as persuasively be argued that a Trump Administration and a Republican Congress will not be as committed, or even examine any disability issues that create either additional government spending or place burdens upon business.
Whatever way the future shakes out, it will certainly be an interesting year for us to advocate on Capitol Hill. During its 2017 ACB Legislative Seminar, ACB will certainly be working for the re-introduction and passage of its two major legislative initiatives, the Cogswell-Macy Act, to strengthen special education requirements for persons who are blind, deaf, and deaf-blind; and the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act, to establish a pilot project for the coverage under Medicare of prescribed low-vision aids. If you've participate in the ACB Legislative Seminar before, you know what an important advocacy opportunity it is for attendees, and if you haven't, you are really missing something. This year's seminar will take place on February 27, and we'll be on Capitol Hill visiting our Congressional delegation on February 28. If you are hoping to come to this event, or can help with funding for others to do so, please contact me at 916-995-3967 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
The 2016-17 state legislative session was a mixed bag for CCB. Thanks to the outstanding work of so many CCB members and non-members alike, especially that of Margie Donovan, and the excellent work of the author Senator Fran Pavley and her staff, Senate Bill 1331 was passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. This bill increases from 2 to 3 members the number of guide dog handlers required to be on the Guide Dog Board; requires the board to produce and place on its website a fact sheet that California schools will provide to their graduates; and allows, subject to specified conditions, a staff member from an out-of-state guide dog school certified by the International Guide Dog Federation to provide follow-up care to Californians who have received their dogs from that school. Next year hearings will be held on whether to continue the existence of the Guide Dog Board, which would be eliminated on January 1, 2017 unless extended by the Legislature. CCB will need to determine its position on this matter.
Our other bill, AB1824, was vetoed by the Governor. This bill would have strengthened criminal provisions relating to dog attacks against service animals by adding lost wages and medical costs of the person with a disability to the costs for which restitution from the owner of the attacking dog could be sought, and for which a claim could be made for compensation from the State Victim Compensation Board. In addition, it would have applied these provisions to attacks even when the service animal was not specifically engaged in its duties. The Governor appeared, however, to veto the bill only because of a specific provision that was not central to what we were trying to accomplish, and it is our hope that we can have the Legislature pass the bill again in 2017 and this time obtain the Governor's signature.
In what might be called a small victory followed by a defeat, the Legislature and the Governor agreed through the state budget process, to provide for the first increase in the state's share of SSI benefits in almost a decade. Benefit levels have fallen below the poverty level, and this increase will hopefully begin to redress this unconscionable situation. On the other hand, the Governor vetoed AB1584, which would have restored the automatic cost-of-living adjustment provision for the state's portion of SSI benefits, a provision that was repealed in 2009. The Legislature also passed AJR35, which requests the federal government to allow California to end the practice it requested almost half a century ago of giving cash to SSI recipients instead of food stamps. At that time the cash grant given in lieu of food stamps was more valuable, but now the reverse is true. The complication, however, is that certain families with children would actually lose if this request were granted, so the federal government would need to do something to ensure this wouldn't happen. Stay tuned on this issue! CCB, as the only active blindness organization in a large statewide coalition working on SSI reform, will continue to work hard on all SSI-related issues in 2017 and beyond.
Finally, I would like to make you aware of some of the activities in which I am involved on behalf of CCB. First, I was appointed to a taskforce to redesign disability training information to be provided to county social workers involved in the In-Home Supportive Services Program. I am also entering into discussions with leaders in the field of the education of persons who are blind or low vision to discuss whether there might be initiatives we can take in this area. Finally, I am involved in a very complex administrative process that arose out of a bill we supported a couple of years ago concerning the potential for sensors, including an audible tone, to let consumers know when their clothes dryers have a lint build-up that presents a danger of fire. It is far too soon to know what will become of this process, but the fact that we are at the table is indicative of our increasing footprint in California's governmental affairs.
Of course, many other CCB members are also engaged in state agency advocacy, including Mitch Pomerantz who leads our contingent on the Department of Rehabilitation Blind Advisory Committee, Gene Lozano who leads the way with our efforts with the Department of Transportation and the State Building Standards Commission, and Ardis Bazyn who advocates with the Secretary of State's office on voting issues. I want to thank everyone who works on advocating at the state or local levels for all of your efforts. Even more importantly, get ready to roll up your sleeves, and when called upon, let our public officials know where we stand. Also, when you have issues that you think need to be addressed, let me or other CCB leaders know of your concerns. Working together we can make a difference!