Thursday, April 10, 2014

MS Activists meet with Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Yesterday, MS Activists Jonathan Sari and Esti Mintz met with their state Representative Jessyn Farrell to continue the discussion we had during the legislative session on special needs transportation. The National MS Society is very interested in increasing funding for accessible transportation, and we have been talking with legislators about how to make this happen. As the vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Farrell has a particularly powerful role to play in budget negotiations. 

From left to right - Esti Mintz, Nigel Herbig, Rep. Jessyn Farrell, Jonathan Sari, Jim Freeburg
Jonathan and Esti met with Rep. Farrell as part of our Day of Activism in February - soon after they met with her, she moved into a leadership position within the Transportation Committee. Rep. Farrell was particularly interested in helping out and committed to doing whatever she can to ensure our concerns are addressed. It was great to hear her strong support for the issue - we'll definitely be working with her to make it a reality.

If you are interested in meeting with your legislators to discuss accessible transportation (or any other issue affecting the MS community), let us know and we'll help make it happen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Medical research funding protected by Governor Inslee

Medical research advocates should be pleased with Governor Inslee's recent actions that preserved funding for the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF). On Friday, the Governor vetoed legislation that would have gutted funding for the LSDF.

The LSDF was created by Governor Gregoire in 2005 from tobacco settlement monies to invest in promising medical research in Washington state. One of the largest LSDF grants went to the Benaroya Research Institute to create an autoimmune research program to look for new treatments for conditions like MS. Since then, the Legislature has significantly reduced funding for the LSDF due to economic troubles, and proposed eliminating funding completely this year.

The Society, along with several other patient advocacy organizations, urged the Governor to veto the funding cut. Increasing funding for medical research has long been a priority for the Society, and we are pleased that medical research will continue in Washington state.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Session finishes up without a transportation package, but with a disability parking bill!

As you probably know, the legislature finished up its business late last week without passing a new transportation plan. Despite pleas from all sorts of transportation advocates (including MS Activists!), legislators could not reach an agreement about how to fix Washington's transportation problems. It's hard to know where to place the blame, but the long and short is that we won't stop talking about the need for additional funding for special needs transportation any time soon.

While talking to legislators about the need to increase funding for accessible transportation, it's become pretty apparent that this is a big issue for people with MS. The stories from people with MS show the significant need for additional transportation options for people with MS and others who can't drive. While many legislators have been sympathetic, our request has been caught up in debates around contracting, union wages, and environmental protections. We'll continue to push for more funding for special needs transportation, so if you haven't already, it's not too late to take action!

On a brighter note, our efforts to protect disabled parking for people with MS paid off. The Legislature passed House Bill 2463 last week with unanimous votes in the House and Senate. MS activists should be proud to know that our work at the Day of Activism in February paid off. Relationships that activists have built over time with their elected officials have been the key to our advocacy efforts and we are grateful that the MS community makes it a priority to get involved in government. Your work improves the lives of people with MS and for that, we are grateful!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Transportation discussion continues in Olympia...and special needs funding increases!!

In the closing days of the legislative session, lawmakers don't seem to be much closer in agreement on the specifics of a transportation package. However, they are making progress on one issue that really matters to people with MS: special needs transportation! As this article from the Seattle Times indicates, Senator King formally introduced his proposal yesterday (Senate Bills 6577, 6578, 6579), and in an exciting twist, contains even more funding for special needs transportation than we saw just a few weeks ago. His proposal now suggests increasing special needs funding by $160 million!

The special needs program funds paratransit services, like King County's Access, Snohomish County's Dial-a-Ride, and Pierce County's SHUTTLE. It also provides grants for accessible shuttles to community groups like senior centers. We frequently hear from people with MS who have a very difficult time getting around the community and we expect that this increase in funding will make it easier for people with MS to get to where they need to go when they can no longer drive.

If you haven't already, be sure to tell legislators that we need to fully fund special needs transportation! It just takes a few clicks and you can get an email off to your legislator today. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Disability parking bill moves through the House

Earlier this week, the disability parking bill addressed at the Day of Activism passed the Washington House of Representatives. The bill is intended to crack down on the fraudulent abuse of disability parking placards, but the Society expressed concern about its detrimental impact on people living with MS. The bill moved forward after legislators removed the section that concerned MS activists, preserving parking privileges for people living with MS.

A recent article from Everett's Herald newspaper provides a good overview of the issue, and quotes the Society's advocacy director, Jim Freeburg. The National MS Society has been urging lawmakers to focus on increasing enforcement rather than taking away privileges from legitimate users. House passage of the bill suggests that lawmakers are listening.

House Bill 2463 now moves onto the Senate where it will need to receive a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee before March 3 in order to become law.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Senate shows support for special needs transportation - you can too!

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus released their latest proposal yesterday and it includes an additional $111 million for special needs transportation over the next twelve years. This is a significant increase over the proposal released this fall, but it still isn't perfect. The proposal neglects to include any new funding for community organizations providing special needs transportation. Instead, it allocates all of the additional funding to transit agencies offering paratransit services.

MS activists should be pleased that legislators heard our message from the Day of Activism. But we shouldn't rest. The House still needs to approve the transportation package, and this will only occur once legislators reach a consensus over reforms that the Senate is proposing. That consensus could take some time, but we hope legislators will move forward. MS activists should continue pressing legislators to take action on improving the state of accessible transportation in Washington. Too many people with MS and other disabilities need it!

MS activists should continue to talk about the importance of special needs transportation at legislators' town halls and on social media. If you are on Twitter (and now Facebook!), join the discussion with these hashtags:
#WaLeg - all things Washington Legislature
#WaTranspo - tweets about the transportation package
#KeepUsMoving - our hashtag for special needs transportation advocates
#MSactivist - for all your MS advocacy

And follow me @JimFmovesMS. What's your Twitter handle?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Our Day of Activism in Olympia....Success!

Over 65 MS activists descended on the Legislature last week to talk to lawmakers about the importance of accessible transportation and disability parking for people with MS. Despite the cold, volunteers came from all over the state and met with half the Legislature - an incredible feat! It was an inspiring day and made me so proud to be a member of the MS community. 

Activists met with legislators to talk about House Bill 2463 - an effort to crack down on illegal users of disability parking placards that would restrict the ability of people with MS to get free and unlimited parking. Because of our advocacy, lawmakers removed the restrictions on parking privileges for people with MS and other mobility impairments. The bill moved out of the House Transportation Committee last week and should move forward.

Lisa and Martin Boon

Sue Dahlin-Morales meeting with Senator Andy Hill's staff
Cermit Rickey on the Capitol steps

Jane Foy and Nora Gibson

Veronica Chase discussing our priority issues.
Additionally, volunteers advocated for additional funding for accessible transportation. Too many people with MS are unable to get around their communities and the legislature should increase funding for accessible transportation (also known as the special needs transportation fund). While the legislature isn't expected to pass a new transportation package anytime soon, we will be working with them to ensure they don't forget about the transportation needs of their constituents who live with MS and other disabilities.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler (photo courtesy of Martin Boon)

One highlight of the day - Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler joined us to provide a quick update on the Affordable Care Act. Commissioner Kreidler is a long-time supporter of the MS community and is always a favorite speaker at the Day of Activism.

Thanks to all the Activists who attended the Day of Activism. And for all those who weren't able to attend, you can still make a difference. Email your legislators today and ask them to fund accessible transportation - it's not too late!