Attendant Care Overtime, over time

Early in 2016, the United States Department of Labor issued new rules that clarify the kinds of job categories that were entitled to receive overtime pay if the employee worked more than 40 hours.  For the first time since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, DOL made it clear that people employed as home health care attendants are covered by the law.  If an attendant works more than 40 hours, the attendant is entitled to overtime pay.

In anticipation of the new rules, which became effective January 1, 2016, Governor McAulliffe included funding in his proposed state budget last year, that would allow the Department of Medical Assistance Services to pay for up to 56 hours a week of overtime pay for home healthcare attendants employed under Medicaid’s Consumer Directed Waiver.  The legislature promptly removed all funding for overtime pay. And some consumers then faced crisis.

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2017 Virginia General Assembly

It is that time again in the Commonwealth!  The 2017 legislative session in Virginia will begin on January 11th at noon.  This is a “short” session meaning that the legislature plans to be in session for 45 days, rather than the 60 days of the “long” session that meets on even-numbered years.

During the “short” session, the legislature will consider amendments to the already adopted two year budget, will request studies to be completed on different topics and will debate substantive changes to the Virginia code.

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Janet Reno

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was still a very young law,  the Department of Justice filed its first lawsuit, against the Becker CPA Exam review course.  Some people who wanted to take the review course for the CPA exam, and who were also deaf, had requested that Becker provide sign language interpreters for the course, and Becker refused.  DOJ tried to negotiate with the respected review course, but Becker did not budge.  So, late in 1992, DOJ filed its first ADA lawsuit.

A year and a half later, the parties reached a settlement, with Becker agreeing at long last to provide interpreters to students who needed them, and paying monetary awards to the named complainants. The complainants were finally able to fully participate in the review course, and when they then took the CPA exam, they passed at a rate even higher than others.

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Employing people with disabilities is just good business

When you employ someone with a disability, you add a dimension of diversity that you can not acquire any other way.  That perspective can prove to be very valuable to any business.  But in addition, there may be bottom line savings and benefits for your business when you support employment for people with disabilities.  Businesses accommodating people with disabilities may qualify for some of the following tax credits and deductions. More detailed information may be found in the IRS publications referenced below. Continue reading

Employment works!

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month!  This year, we celebrate the 71st anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  This is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the ways individuals with disabilities strengthen our workforce, our communities, and our country.

At dLCV, we are so fortunate to be able to have many coworkers who have disabilities or who have family members with disabilities.  We have daily testimony of how valuable this resource really is.

Many disabled Americans make unique contributions to the economy, but this should not be “news.”  Our history is full of examples of valuable contributions.   For example, Thomas Edison the inventor of the light bulb, was severally hearing-impaired.

Around the age of 12, Edison lost almost all his hearing, possibly because of scarlet fever.  His disability did not discourage him.  In his 84 years, Edison acquired 1,093 patents.  His laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., was often called the invention factory.  It was there that he invented the phonograph, motivated by the machine’s ability to play material useful to blind individuals.

Americans with disabilities make up almost 20% of our population.  Sadly, people with disabilities are unemployed at a rate that is twice that of people without disabilities.   Most of those Americans with disabilities want to work and with some accommodation (many times the accommodation costing employers less than $500 per employee) can be creative and productive employees.  Many employers who pay for accommodations are eligible for tax credits and tax deductions.

As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, let us continue to work to remove obstacles to employment, so every American has a chance to be employed.

Voting in Virginia

Virginia values its traditions.  This is true in many aspects of our civic life in the Commonwealth, but perhaps no more so than in the way we conduct our elections.   While many other states are willing to experiment with new fangled ideas like early voting or same day registration, Virginia resists change.  Virginia likes things just the way they are, thank you very much.

The problem for us is that “just the way they are” often works to exclude people with disabilities.

Virginia was very slow to allow people with disabilities to vote “absentee” if they were unable to get to the polling place.  The idea of increased use of absentee voting was just too much of a change.  Although the legislature eventually adopted that tiny bit of reform seven years ago, each year the legislature rejects proposals to allow changes like no-excuse absentee voting or even absentee voting for people over the age of 65.  Ideas like automatic voter registration when you get a driver’s license (“motor voter” laws) don’t even make it to committee in our legislature.

Most people with disabilities would prefer to have the option to vote on election day, in the same polling place as their neighbors.  But that option is not a real one throughout Virginia.  In March, dLCV surveyed more than 200 polling places, and found that 24% of the locations we visited had some barrier to voting for people with disabilities.  If that percentage bears out across the Commonwealth, it means that hundreds of polling locations are, in some way, inaccessible to people with disabilities.

We recently shared our survey results with the State Board of Elections, with the hope that they will take action to improve opportunities to vote for people with disabilities prior to the general election in November.  We will let you know whether they do that, or if they, too, like to keep things “just the way they are.”

Antonin Scalia

The late Justice Antonin Scalia will be remembered for many things.  Here at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, we remember him as the author of the Supreme Court’s 2011 opinion in VOPA v. Stewart, the decision that ultimately lead to the complete independence of Virginia’s protection and advocacy system.

A few years ago, Virginia’s protection and advocacy organization was a somewhat independent state agency, the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy.  Although state law referred to VOPA as “independent,” its state agency status still presented serious obstacles.  For example, when VOPA investigated suspicious deaths and injuries at state-operated facilities, the state refused to provide all the relevant evidence requested.  VOPA sued the state to get that information, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that one state agency could not sue another state agency.   The investigations came to a halt.

VOPA appealed the 4th Circuit decision to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the special role, created by federal law, of the watchdog agency should give it the ability to sue the state when necessary.   This is the bargain, VOPA argued, that the state entered into when it accepted federal money under these programs. In oral argument,  the Commonwealth’s attorney, William Thro, complained that allowing one state agency to sue another “offends the dignity of the sovereign state.”  Justice Scalia snapped back, “a dignified sovereign would never accept this bargain.”

Justice Scalia went on to author the opinion in VOPA v. Stewart that gave the P & A the authority to sue the state if necessary.  It was a 6-2 opinion, solidly in favor of the P & A’s investigative authority.  The Commonwealth of Virginia relented, and produced the investigative records in short order.  Within the next year, the Commonwealth began the process of establishing the P & A as a fully independent, private non profit organization.

The P & A left state government, to become the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, on October 1, 2013, in large part because of the decision written by Antonin Scalia.

Justice Scalia died this past Saturday, February 13, 2016.