During an emergency such as a hurricane or a public health crisis, there is not only a need to focus planning and response efforts on disability-specific aspects of the emergency, but also to seek the input and expertise of people with disabilities in the process. If elected, how would your office work to ensure that state emergency planning (i.e., health testing, sheltering and safety of congregate living populations, et cetera) is inclusive of Florida’s disability communities? How will you work to ensure that communications and other information from the state is accessible to people with disabilities?
I think accessibility is a huge problem with our state’s services. The fact that, in the age of AI, we don’t have a unified portal for folks to apply for and receive aid is ridiculous. As a State Representative, my office was constantly helping constituents who had difficulty applying for and receiving the aid they needed. We can and must do better. I’ll work on legislation to streamline state services, making sure they are especially accessible to people with disabilities and vulnerable populations.
In the event that the global pandemic lasts through the current school year or possibly beyond, how would you work with state educational officials to ensure that relevant state and federal educational guarantees for students with disabilities are adhered to, and do you believe that it is possible to appropriately educate students with disabilities remotely or through virtual education?
I’ll start with the second part of the question. I think that every child is unique, both in ability and need. There is no doubt in my mind that virtual instruction would be wildly inadequate for many students with disabilities, while for others, it may suffice for the time being. Because children are unique, the best thing the state can do is to empower parents to choose the best mode of schooling for their children. Whether its online, in a traditional public school, or a charter school, etc. Parents shouldn’t be forced to take a single option. Students with disabilities, especially, need flexibility and choice in their modes of education.
In recent years, the state legislature has devoted much attention to the issue of mental health service delivery and crisis response systems in state public schools. In your opinion, how should the state work to ensure that the mental health needs of its students are met, and what reforms are needed to provide adequate mental health and crisis response services in our schools? When, if ever, is it appropriate for schools to initiate involuntary examinations for its students under the Florida Mental Health Act (“the Baker Act”)?
I believe that persons given the power to baker act by law should do so whenever they fear a student may be a serious danger to themselves or others. As far as meeting the mental health needs of students, as you mentioned, this issue has become central in recent years, and I think that only through screening, awareness, and outcome evaluations we will know when we’ve “done enough.” I don’t think that time is now, though.
It has become apparent that COVID-19 spreads most easily in institutional and congregate living arrangements. If elected, how would you work to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of persons with disabilities and reduce other forms of congregate living in favor of serving persons with disabilities in their own homes or the community both during and after the current pandemic? What will you do to ensure that people with psychiatric disabilities are afforded the services they need to succeed in their own homes and communities and avoid psychiatric hospitalization?
Over-institutionalization has been a problem for as long as institutions have existed. The facts are that it’s often more beneficial to the patient, and less costly to the taxpayer, to provide in-home care for persons with a disability. I’ll push for programs that provide such care to be expanded and more fully funded by the legislature. I believe we’d actually save money by reducing the number of preventable hospitalizations.
Even before the pandemic began and massive job losses ensued, 2.7 million Floridians were uninsured. Research shows that under normal circumstances the uninsured have much greater challenges accessing health care, and these disparities are exacerbated during a health crisis. Do you support expanding the state’s Medicaid program to cover adults (19-64) with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to provide more than 800,000 Floridians with coverage? Why or why not? Do you support proposals to utilize a “block grant” or “per capita cap” approach to contain Medicaid spending? Why or why not?
I do not support expanding Medicaid. Why? Because I think we can do better. Large clinical studies have shown patients have no increase in positive health outcomes on Medicaid versus those without insurance. That’s embarrassing. We need to empower people to choose where, when, and how they get treated. Medicaid expansion will take choice and competition out of the market. Choice and competition are just what we need to drive down healthcare costs for our vulnerable populations.
Despite the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) and related state and federal laws, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities continues to be much higher than that of people without disabilities. If elected, how would you work to promote meaningful opportunities for supported employment and competitive, integrated employment of people with disabilities in the state? What policies do you advocate to support the academic and career success of students with disabilities, especially for students from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds?
I am a huge proponent of expanding vocational training in our public schools and state colleges. We need to give all students the option to learn skills that will make them employable in growing industries.
Nationwide it is believed that there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities who are incarcerated, and many of these individuals face substantial barriers to reentry when they complete their sentences and return home. What reforms do you support to ensure that returning citizens with disabilities have the resources, skills and mental health supports to succeed when they complete their sentences?
This goes back to my answer to the first question. Accessibility. It is incredibly difficult to understand and navigate our state’s benefit systems. We need to streamline services and educate incarcerated person on how to access them before the re-enter society.
What is your experience working with people with disabilities or alongside disability-led organizations? Please provide examples of your experience addressing and responding to disability issues or describing disability advocacy efforts you have participated in either personally, professionally, or while in elected office if applicable. If elected, how would you integrate the input and perspectives of people with disabilities in your office’s planning and legislative efforts?
In college I took a class called Exceptional People and worked with those with physical disabilities. I learned so much from the relationships that formed there. In the Florida House, I was the chair of HHS and worked with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to better understand needs ranging from skilled nursing to residential care. I’m also big supporter of Inspire of Central Florida. You can always count on me to have an open door and to answer your call (my cell is 407-752-0258).