This morning was here before I knew it! I spent last night going back and forth with my online buddies, tweeking and re-wording and re-wording again my speech that I planned to give to the committee this morning. We got up this morning and of course it was the morning that all three kids didn't want to cooperate. LOL! So in a rush, we made it out the door and met up with my Aunt Nancy & Uncle Mike at Mike's work and headed downtown to the state house!
Once we got there, we went through security without a hitch this time and made our way to the committee hearing room. Gary was already there and we let his dog and Rei meet, which his dog tried to show he was boss and Rei wasn't too fond of that, so we decided to keep some distance between the two of them to make sure there wasn't any disagreements in such an important time. LOL! Gary took his place on one side of the small, but long room and I took a seat on the aisle on the other side of the room. Very soon after, another gentleman with his assistance dog made his way to the room and sat next to Gary and across the center aisle from me. Being that the room was narrow, there were 3 chairs on each side of the aisle and maybe 5-6 rows back, then there was a T shaped table in front of the chairs of which the committee was to sit at. on my side there was a podium for those who wished to speak.
We were the last bill to be heard. And while the meeting was only scheduled to 10:30, it was about 10:15 that they called our bill, thanks to some long winded speakers on the first two bills. I was really worried because the quite a few of the reps seemed to be really showing that they were NOT interested in the other two bills, twiddling thier thumbs, rolling thier eyes, texting on thier phones, twirling thier highlighters, etc.
Then they called our bill, HB1603, and Gary gave his testimony, which was pretty much a letter from the lady who works for the hardware store. I was then called up to speak and I walked up to the podium and quietly said "Sit" and Rei did it PERFECTLY on command. I then said quietly "Down" with a point to the floor and she very daintily laid down and put her head on her paws. The looks on thier faces (the committee) and the gasps of awe was just PRICELESS!
I gave my speech, which I kind of stumbled a little bit in the middle, but came out of it fine. A mother got up and spoke that she just asked that the committee carefully consider the language in terms of the ADA in place already and then one other gentleman got up and spoke too about an amendment that he would like to see to it on some issues with paratransit with the dogs. . Then the representative from ICAAN (an Indiana assistance dog school) spoke saying she wanted to re-iterate what had already been said and that the bill was imperative but did need some tweaking on the language of what a service animal was. Lastly Nancy Griffin spoke on the importance of this bill as well and she knows many of the guys on this committee. So all was really good!
Then the chairman looked to the committee and I understood him to simply say, "Well, I don't know about you guys, but these testimonies leave me with no question of what we need to do. " There were no further questions from the committee and then they had the vote and we got "Yes" from everyone on the committee! :D The chairman then adjourned the meeting and commented that he hadn't heard a peep out of any of the dogs the entire time, even though we had 4 dogs in a very small room!
Then as all of the Representatives exited the room, several came up and shook our hands and met the dogs and commented on how well behaved they were. I sincerely thanked each and every one of them for thier time. My representative, Rep. Greg Stuerwald, came up and introduced himself and loved on Rei, telling me about his English/Canadian stock yellow Lab that he has at home. :) I thanked him again and after most of the representatives left the room, Rep. Leonard and the group of us discussed the language amendments that needed to take place and how to address the issue of problems with paratansit and the dogs.
They are going to amend the wording a bit to also included mental impairments as well as physical impairments as well as change it to service animal instead of just service dog, but over all the bill was completely accepted and we had everyone's attention and support on this through the whole thing.
Soooo, We got it! Up next- the House floor! Please email all of your house reps now and ask them to support this bill on the floor! :)
Lastly, my Aunt Nancy grabbed the gentleman that came in during the hearing portion for this bill and was taking pictures. He turned out to be Rep. Leonard's/the Republican Caucus press person, and he took my name, address, and email and said that he'd send me the pictures he took during the hearing. Rep. Leonard and I then went out in the hallway and he took a picture of us together on each side of Rei. :D
So here we are:
Kacie on the left in a black suit and magenta shirt and with a black Indiana Governor's Council bag over her shoulder. Rei is in the middle, in harness, looking to the left (at the dogs beyond the picture) Representative Leonard, the bill author, is on the right in a suit, white shirt and blue tie. He has glasses and a mustache.
Lastly, while it wound up not being entirely this, this is what I had went in with as my speech to the committee- it was pretty close, but not exactly:
Mr. Chairman and Committee Representatives,
My name is Kacie XXX and I want to talk to you today about House Bill 1603 and why this bill is so important. I want you to know that this bill is very significant to many physically or mentally challenged employees, parents, children, and many other members of our community in their daily lives. These service animals not only give their handlers independence and the ability to do the daily functions that are often taken for granted, but also give a quality of life and level of confidence that is immeasurable.
This bill affects me because I am a deaf blind person with progressively diminishing sight and profound hearing loss resulting from a form of Retinitis Pigmentosa disease called Ushers Syndrome. I live in Brownsburg with my husband Mike, and our three children, ages 8, 5, and 3 1/2. My disability can be a burden on my family, so I went to Long Island, New York in October 2008, and received my second guide dog, Rei, so that I could function again with my family. Before having a guide dog, we were unable to go out as a family and do so safely. My husband simply was unable to keep track of the kids and assist me at the same time. My white cane was never enough and my husband would have to watch out for me as much as our children.
When Rei came into my life, for the first time in several years, I was able to safely and independently travel on my own with confidence. I now am able to walk at night independently despite complete night blindness. We are now able to go places as a family, as my husband only has to be concerned with keeping our kids safe and under his watchful eye. I am a volunteer and conduct speaking engagements to educate the community of issues that affect people with vision and/or hearing loss along with being actively involved in my kids’ school and preschool classes. My dog Rei goes with me everywhere I go and she is an extension of my person. Rei is my eyes. Rei IS my independence. Therefore, it really concerns me that the schools are currently able to deny me the ability to be involved in my kids' schools.
This also concerns me because there is the possibility of my returning to the work force as soon as my children are in school full time, and according to the current language of the statute, employers can deny me access to their facilities because of my dog. Prior to my vision loss, I was able to obtain college degrees and was active in the work force. I can be an asset to any community as a member of the work force, as a volunteer, as an educator of issues that affect people with vision and/or hearing loss, but as this law reads currently, I could do none of these things because I would be denied the opportunity, simply because I use a service animal. This animal has given me back so many freedoms my disease has taken from me. The idea that my state could restrict me again is heartbreaking.
This law matters. I stand here in front of you today to ask that you please support this bill, House Bill 1603. I ask you to support this bill, and bring Indiana up to federal provisions and standards, and allow Indiana to comply with the Americans with Disabilities act.
I ask for myself, for my family, and for all the people of Indiana who need your support and actions in the spirit of the American with Disabilities Act.
Upon waking up from my 3 hour nap this afternoon, I found this email from Gary in my inbox. :)
The Bill passed unanimously out of committee this morning and we are told that house passage should not be a problem, Two small changes will be made adding developmental to physical disabilities and changing dog to animal to better agree with the ADA. Rep, Leonard said he will sponsor another bill next year after the 2008 NPRM for the ADA is officially released with the new definition for a service animal. We do not want to stall the momentum at this time with major changes to the amendment, but it is a living document.
Congratulations and thanks to all for your hard work, and keep it up through the senate!
Lastly, I want to also thank the couple of Partners that came and supported us by being there at the hearing! I am also very grateful that Kim Dodson and Nancy Griffin, both lobbyists that we met this past weekend in our Partners in Policymaking session were there as well. They were a huge help for me, doing this the first time! :D
Alright, House floor- HERE WE COME!!!!