For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.
Bill: House Bill (HB) 140, relating to the provision of certain co-navigation services to individuals who are deaf-blind.
Bill Author: Rep. Mary González, Texas House District 75 (El Paso)
What does the bill do?
HB 140 would require the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to operate a co-navigation services program for people who are deaf-blind, in which co-navigators are reimbursed for providing the services.
Co-navigation services are defined in the bill as, “services provided to an individual who is deaf-blind that assist the individual to physically access the individual’s environment and to make informed decisions. The term includes providing visual and environmental information or sighted guide services and assisting with communication accessibility by communicating in the preferred language and communication mode of the individual who is deaf-blind.” The term does not include providing personal care services; completing ordinary errands; making decisions for, teaching, or otherwise instructing the individual; or interpreting for the individual in a formal setting.
The bill requires the HHSC executive commissioner to establish reimbursement rates to be paid to co-navigators. Reimbursements would use a tiered wage schedule based on the level of training, fluency, and skill in communication modes and sighted guide-mobility.
HHSC would monitor co-navigators’ compliance with program rules, and develop funding sources that reduce reliance on the state sources for the continuation of the program. The commission must also provide funding and technical assistance for training programs for co-navigators and for individuals who are deaf-blind. The trainings would enable individuals to use the services offered under the program effectively.
The bill allows for establishing an advisory committee to advise in the development and operation of the program, including operating the program in a manner that ensures the efficient use of state money. If established, the advisory committee must include individuals who are deaf-blind and other stakeholders.
Lastly, HB 140 requires HHSC to adopt rules and begin operating the program no later than Sept. 1, 2024.
“HB 140 will help members of Texas’s deaf-blind community live independently and participate in activities most Texans simply take for granted — shopping, banking, and attending medical appointments and community and civic events.”
Where is the bill in the process?On Nov. 14, 2022, HB 140 was pre-filed for the 88th regular session. Since committee assignments have yet to be named, the bill is waiting to be referred.
Who supports the bill and why?The following comments were taken from an April 13, 2021 public hearing on a bill identical to HB 140:
- Deaf-Blind Service Center (DBSC) of Austin: Kim Powers, a deaf-blind Texan and board member of the DBSC of Austin, testified in support of the bill. She described the difficulties she has faced, in the absence of formal co-navigators, in conducting simple tasks such as reading her mail or picking up necessary medications. This was particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic; she described members of the deaf-blind community as being “helpless and hopeless” at that time. Powers indicated that members of her family often must take on the role of co-navigator. While she appreciates them volunteering so much of their time, she hopes that passage of the bill will allow families members and friends to just be family members and friends and not have to volunteer as co-navigators.
- Self-Advocate: Erik Hammer, who represented himself as a deaf-blind person, spoke in favor of the bill. A longtime occupational therapist, he indicated that co-navigators are trained to provide important auditory and visual information on daily activities for deaf-blind individuals like himself with their preferred method of communication so that they can fully make informed decisions and participate in daily activities. Because there are no co-navigator services available in Austin, Hammer mentioned personally training people to serve as his co-navigators. Hammer is originally from Washington state, one of 14 states that provides state-funded co-navigator services. In closing, referring to the deaf-blind community, he stated, “we are able to make our own life choices, we are viable citizens, we are able to be independent, so we need co-navigators.”