State senate hopeful Chuck Graham, who uses a wheelchair, had a hard time finding a handicapped parking space Thursday night at the Boone County Government Center. All the spots were taken by people packing in to see candidates for five local races debate issues affecting people with disabilities.
Topics such as how to increase employment among people with disabilities, how to improve transportation availability and whether builders should be offered tax credits for constructing accessible homes were discussed by candidates running for the 21st, 23rd, 24th and 25th districts state House seats and the 19th District Senate seat.
21st District representative
To increase employment among people with disabilities, incumbent Republican Steve Hobbs said employers need to be informed of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, saying people with disabilities tend to be punctual and honest. Democrat Lloyd Becker suggested implementing affirmative action for people with disabilities.
Hobbs said he thinks service agencies need to coordinate transportation so that buses are more efficient, whereas Becker said he wants to use school buses to transport people with disabilities, with schools serving as hubs.
Hobbs does not think an ordinance requiring components of universal design in newly constructed single family homes is needed, but said he could support an incentive program. Becker wants to start a grant program for handicap-accessible homes where people with disabilities could have their homes modified at no cost.
Becker criticized his opponent for voting for House Bill 1566, which would have limited eligibility for certain medical assistance benefits, but Hobbs said the bill was aimed at eliminating fraud and waste.
23rd District representative
Incumbent Democrat Jeff Harris stressed fully funding programs such as the personal assistance program and Ticket-To-Work, and said he wants to create incentives to make transportation more accessible and more affordable.
“People aren’t looking for a hand out, they’re looking for a hand up,” Harris said.
Republican Dan Fischbach said he wants agencies to increase job training for people with disabilities, taking the burden off tax dollars and allowing people to be more independent. He thinks transportation spending needs to be more efficient, citing an idea to have trolleys in Columbia as a poor use of resources. Fischbach, unlike Harris, said he does not support ordinances for universal design components in homes, saying the bill could have unintended consequences.
24th District representative
Democrat Travis Ballenger stressed the need to retain Medicaid benefits for people with disabilities working for programs like Ticket-To-Work.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said.
Ballenger wants to increase funding for Services for Independent Living and supports the “Lifetime Homes” bill, which would provide tax credits to developers who build homes with certain accessibility features. The bill would be funded by a $1 fee on building permits, and has been successfully defeated by real estate lobbyists for the last five years. He also said the public needs to be educated to make an informed choice between Medicaid, MC Plus or HealthCare programs.
He supports a cost-of-living adjustment for community providers who contract with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, but was wary to say a number before seeing the budget for upcoming years.
His opponent, Republican Ed Robb, did not attend the forum.
25th District representative
Dolores Shearon represented Democrat Judy Baker, who was unable to attend because she was teaching a class at Columbia College. Shearon agreed that public buses need to run on Sundays, and said Baker supports the “Lifetime Homes,” adding that Baker supports “accessibility, affordability and accountability.”
Republican Bob Northup said he is running on a no-tax increases campaign, saying people with disabilities have “a hard enough time competing.” He said individuals with disabilities employed through programs such as Ticket-To-Work should have continued Medicaid eligibility until they reach a certain income level. Before leaving the forum early due to another engagement, he stressed eliminating spending waste in Jefferson City.
19th District senator
Graham, a Democrat, supports the inclusion of children with disabilities into classrooms so other children can “learn about their abilities” and “not just see disabilities.” Graham said he wants to increase the coordination of vehicles providing services for people with disabilities and supports tax credits for builders that construct handicap-accessible houses. He sharply criticized House Bill 1566, saying legislators need to “quit cutting vital services.”
Jerry Dowell, representing Republican Mike Ditmore, agreed with Graham about better transportation coordination, and said public transportation should be provided on Sundays. He said he could not say whether Ditmore would have supported the House Bill 1566 or not. Dowell, reading a prepared statement, said Ditmore supports specific cost of living adjustments for those contracted with the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Graham agreed an adjustment was needed, but said he wasn’t going to make a promise he wasn’t sure he could keep.