Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Accessibility and the Texas Legislature, Part 1

Update (7/19): Thanks to suddenlyspeaking on Twitter for this link from Burnt Orange Report with further information on filibustering.

**NOTE: "disabled person/people" and "people with disabilities/PWD" will be used throughout this post.**

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have fibromyalgia. Although fibro affects different people in different ways, my fibro manifests as daily excruciating pain in my lower back which often migrates to my arms, legs, and hands (not so much the feet so far).  I started using a cane about a year ago, mainly to help me get around the campus where I'm going to grad school, which is literally on the fault line between the Hill Country and the Coastal Plains (meaning it is VERY hilly).

That being said, I tend to pay attention to accessibility issues, especially when it comes to state and federal government.

After the People's Filibuster on June 20, I learned that Wendy Davis planned to filibuster SB5, a restrictive abortion regulation requiring all abortion clinics to meet the standards of Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs aka day surgery centers) among other atrocious stipulations.

And I began to wonder...what are the requirements for a Texas Senate filibuster? According to this article:
What made the scene so riveting was the woman who was required to speak without a break, without straying from the topic and without even leaning on her antique walnut desk. As time ran out, Republicans deemed her to have violated those rules — including once for being helped with a back brace — and made her give up the floor.

So, no food, no water, no bathroom breaks, no sitting, no leaning, no assistance from any colleagues whatsoever (as evidenced by her second "strike" regarding the back brace). And, as I was watching, the thought occurred to me:

What if Wendy Davis was disabled?


What if I, a disabled person, was a senator and wanted to filibuster?

Let's take a look at the Senate Rules for the 83rd Legislative session (PDF). Page numbers listed below indicate the page numbers of the PDF.

Page 3 of the rules states:
The Texas Senate is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age or disability in employment or the provision of services. (emphasis added)

Seems promising so far.  Except that's the SOLE mention of disability in this context in the entire document (there are a few other mentions regarding disability retirement, etc).

Let's move on to filibustering. Rule 4.03 regarding filibustering can be found on pages 21-24 of the PDF.  As far as I can tell, there is no explanation of the physical requirements of the filibuster, save one phrase I happened to notice:
When a member has been recognized and is speaking on a bill or resolution, he must confine his remarks to the subject of the bill and speak audibly (62 S.J. Reg. 778 (1971)). (emphasis added)

Would this automatically disallow people who use sign language as their primary means of communication from filibustering? What about people with damaged voice boxes, etc?

I'm left wondering, why the stringent requirements for filibustering?  And where exactly can these requirements be found? (If anyone has this info, please let me know and I'll be happy to update the post.)

No one said filibustering would be easy, but filibustering should be a viable option for everyone.  After reading the list of things Senator Davis was NOT allowed to do, I went through this litany in my head:
  • No food/no water - during a filibuster, how would PWD take medication that may be prescribed for certain hourly intervals? Almost all meds encourage taking with water, and many advise taking with food.
  • No bathroom breaks - some people have disabilities that affect their kidney and/or bladder functions. Should they not be allowed to filibuster?
  • No sitting/no leaning - probably the most obvious question here would be, could PWD in wheelchairs or similar mobility devices filibuster? Would that count against the "no sitting" clause? What about people like me, who can only stand for about 15 minutes at a time?
  • No assistance from colleagues (e.g. back brace) - how many PWD need either basic or complex assistance in some form or another?

Clearly, it appears the filibuster rules need to be changed.  If the Texas Senate claims they do not discriminate on the basis of disability, they should follow through and make sure all processes and procedures are fully accessible for EVERYONE.

I plan to write all Texas Senators with suggestions for changes in the filibuster, and I would recommend that all Texans do the same!

I want to be clear that I do not speak for all disabled people.  I look forward to any feedback regarding other accessibility issues I may not have thought of.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will discuss some of the accessibility issues I encountered at the Texas Capitol Building.

1 comment:

  1. I wondered many of these same things as a person with disabilities.