DIVISION OF LEGISLATIVE SERVICES
2002 SESSION: General Assembly Issues
Business - Campaigns/Elections
- Constitutional Amendments - Courts
Virginians with Disabilities
Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities
There are two distinct statewide rights protection programs for persons with disabilities in Virginia. One program is operated by the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services (DMHMRSAS) pursuant to Virginia Code § 37.1-84.1. Because the DMHMRSAS provides services to some of the same individuals protected by this program, it is commonly referred to as an "internal" human rights system. The other statewide program, known as the "external" human rights system, is operated by the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities (DRVD) under the federal Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act and the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act.
Under § 51.5-36 of the Code of Virginia, the DRVD is created as an executive branch agency and "assigned to the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and shall be independent of all other agencies reporting to the Secretary. The Department shall be headed by a Director who shall be appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly." Executive Order 46 (1999) transferred DRVD from the Secretariat of Health and Human Resources to the Secretariat of Administration.
The DRVD provides protection and advocacy services for people with disabilities. The DRVD's credibility, in terms of public perception of its ability to perform its mission and by its own admission in its Strategic Plan for the 1998-2000 biennium, is low. Virginia is one of 11 states that continues to designate a state agency as its protection and advocacy system. Consumers and disability advocacy organizations have urged independence for the DRVD's protection and advocacy functions. In 1999, the Joint Subcommittee to Evaluate the Future Delivery of Publicly Funded Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services recommended creating the Commonwealth's independent state protection and advocacy agency, the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy. SB 1224 (1999) and HB 491 (2000), creating such an office, passed the General Assembly. The Governor put a reenactment clause on the portion of SB 1224 creating the office in 1999 and vetoed HB 491 in 2000.
In the 2002 General Assembly, HB 9 reintroduces the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy. The bill creates a governing board for the office consisting of 11 members who are appointed by the Governor and the General Assembly for staggered terms. This board would hire the agency director who, in turn, would retain legal counsel. The office is given the authority to access facilities and programs, receive notification of deaths in state facilities, and protect the confidentiality of records. The office would also monitor compliance with human rights regulations and make the reports available to the public. The bill establishes within the office an ombudsman program and creates the Protection and Advocacy Fund.
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