Sunday, February 8, 2009

Need everyone's help please! Please read and take action in the next few days!

Good Afternoon all!

As I return from a VERY informational session and inspiring one at that, of Partners in Policymaking, I come home strongly supporting this bill and am asking for your support as fellow Hoosiers or assistance/guide dog handlers, raisers, or friends/families of those with service dogs, to help us get this bill passed.

This bill is the direct result of several recent occurances, where Nancy Jo Acree and her CCI dog E-ore, were not allowed access to a school board meeting in the Carmel Clay school system. She had come to the school board meeting to protest the removal of two facility dogs that were for attending students. When refused access to the meeting, she displayed her id, the dog was wearing his identification jacket, and even though she and another person was there read and presented copies of the ADA, she was still denied access. After the police were called to the scene, she was finally admitted to the back of the room, after the sign-up sheet had been passed around for those wishing to make public comments. She was unable to hear or understand what was being said or who was speaking at any given time and then unable to give her comments.

A federal lawsuit has been filed for this violation, and would be filed under state legislation, however, since Indiana law currently defines that service animals are to be allowed in places that provide services to the public, the school does not fall into this category, as it only offers services to a limited portion of the public. Thus the current language of the law, under state regulations allow schools to exclude service animals from schools.

A second situation involves a lady in Ft. Wayne, IN, who works for a hardware store headquarters there in Ft. Wayne. She contacted her Human resources dept., notifying them that she would be applying for a guide dog. When she received acceptance to the school, she notified the HR dept again, and they told her congratulations. Then when she requested the vacation time off, a full four weeks, they approved the time off and again showed thier support for her. However, when she returned home and showed up for work on the first day after receiving her dog, the VP of human resources stood in the doorway of the building and refused to allow her access to her employment. They told her that she could not enter the building whatsoever with the dog.

The company has since set her up against her suggestions, set up a full office within her home, installing phone lines, purchasing a new computer, and installing a T link in order to provide "reasonable accomodations". This lady has been "provided" these things to accomodate her, but she is not allowed to step foot on the building premises of her employer with her dog. She has even been notified that she is not allowed to bring the dog to company sponsored picnics and functions that are for the employees.The actual hardware stores themselves are all completely assistance dog friendly. The company however, has used the loophole within the state statute, that because the Headquarters office does not serve the general public, that they are exempt from the state regulation of having to provide their employee access to their facilities. They have under the ADA though, provided "reasonable accomodations".

This situation very much concerns me as a guide dog handler, as this statute currently is not up to the level of the federal law. The way the IN statute reads right now, the schools can deny me access to my children's schools on the basis of my guide dog, should they want to, and unless I have the financial ability and patience to fight this on a federal level, I have no choice but to back down on this. And that REALLY bothers me as a mother of three young kids either in or soon to be in elementary school.

House Bill 1603 is written to change the language of the current statute so that the term includes the following educational facilities:
(1) A nursery school.
(2) An elementary school.
(3) A secondary school.
(4) An undergraduate or postgraduate public or private institution.
(5) Other places of education.

And that a covered entity may not interfere, directly or indirectly, with the use of a dog that has been or is being specially trained as a:
(1) guide dog;
(2) hearing dog; or
(3) service dog.

or that a covered entity may not refuse to permit an employee with a disability to keep a:
(1) guide dog;
(2) hearing dog; or
(3) service dog;
with the employee at all times in the place of employment.


So what you can do...

This piece of Indiana legislation that is being proposed can be read and followed here:
HB1603

The following committee is the one that will be hearing this bill and I sincerely and strongly urge you to contact especially the Chair of this committee and House speaker Pat Bauer, as well as the rest of this committee, voicing how important this bill is. The more people that are the actual constituants of these committee members, the more it will help. So if you know anyone that is within these districts, please, please have them contact these committee members below at the link I've provided to contact these gentlemen.

Labor and Employment Committee
Rep. David Niezgodski, Chair: South Bend District 7
Rep. Chuck Moseley,Vice Chair:Portage District 10
Rep. Dan Leonard, RMM: District 50
Rep. Doug Gutwein: District 16
Rep. John Bartlett: Indianapolis District 95
Rep. Matt Bell: District 83
Rep. Clyde Kersey: Terre Haute District 43
Rep. Gerald Torr: District 39
Rep. Dennie Oxley: Taswell District 73 Rep. Greg Steuerwald: District 40
Rep. Russ Stilwell: Boonville District 74
Rep. Dennis Tyler: Muncie District 34

How to contact committee members:
Contact your IN Legislator

How to contact the committee chairman:
Rep. David L. Niezgodski: District 7 South Bend Area

By Email: h7@in.gov

By Mail...
State Representative David L. Niezgodski
Indiana House of Representatives
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2786

By Phone...
Call toll-free (from anywhere within Indiana):
1-800-382-9842
or directly at (317)232-9600

Contacting House speaker-Pat Bauer:
Contact Pat Bauer

By Mail...
Indiana House Speaker Pat Bauer
Indiana House of Representatives
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2786

By Phone...
Call toll-free (from anywhere within Indiana):
1-800-382-9842
or directly at (317)232-9600

Currently, the bill is waiting to go to hearing. As of yesterday morning, the bill was not very high on the priority list because of it being a budget year and we were being told that it wasn't going to make it to a hearing and thus die for this session. We just received word last night though, that Rep. Leonard has received word from Chairman Niezgodski that he would hear the bill in the House Committee on Labor and Employment. The bill will mostly get a hearing this coming week however the date for that hearing has not been set. Tentatively the date is February 12th. We will not know the exact date until the day before.

So please, please send in your emails, make the phone calls, forward this information to anyone you know in Indiana and ask them to do this and please help me gather the support we need to get this passed! Thank you all soooo much for your help on this!

Sincerely,
Kacie Weldy & Rei
Vice President ~ Indiana Deaf Blind Association

1 comment:

Tiffany said...

I would like to note that while the issue of a public school being a place of public accommodation is one for the courts yet to hash out, a school board meeting makes the place that the meeting is being held a place of public accommodation.

For example...churches are not places of public accommodations. As such, they have the right to refuse access to service dog users. However, if by some chance a school board meeting, or city council meeting, or any other meeting to which the public is permitted or invited to attend, is held in a church, the church becomes a place of public accommodation for that meeting and must permit service dog access.

The same holds true for schools. School board members are (generally) elected officials who conduct government business including meetings open to the public. Regardless of where these meetings are held, service dog access must be allowed. Or, to make use of the wording of Indiana's laws, the school board is offering a service to the general public, and the school is providing facilities open to the general public for the purpose of attending a school board meeting. As a result, the school board meeting is a public accommodation regardless of the facility used to hold the meeting.

If I were you, I would get a new lawyer and pursue a state case as well. You will likely get better remedies from the federal case, but you'll likely get faster ones from the state case.