Written Testimony on SB 976

Public Policy Input — 2019


TCDD logo   Mary Durheim, Chair
Andrew D. Crim, Vice Chair
Beth Stalvey, MPH, PhD, Executive Director

6201 E. Oltorf, Suite 600
Austin, TX 78741-7509
Email: tcdd@tcdd.texas.gov
Website: www.tcdd.texas.gov
  Phone: (512) 437-5432
Toll Free: (800) 262-0334
Fax: (512) 437-5434

Senate Transportation Committee

Written Testimony on Senate Bill 976
Indication of Communication Impediment When Registering Vehicle

March 28, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on Senate Bill 976, which would provide for the voluntary indication of a communication impediment to be associated with vehicle registration.

The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) is established by state and federal law and is governed by 27 board members, appointed by the Governor, 60% of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. TCDD’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.

The program proposed in Senate Bill 976 is similar to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) program that provides a Communication Impediment with a Peace Office (CIPO) notice for use on a driver license or state ID. This state law, which took effect in 2004, was later promoted for people with autism as a result of advocacy by the nonprofit organization Aspergers101 and the Office of the Governor, and following the passage of HB 1434 in the 85th Texas Legislature.

Senate Bill 976 would give individuals an option similar to the CIPO program to voluntarily disclose information about a communication impediment when registering a vehicle with the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The bill was seemingly written so that in a traffic stop, a law enforcement officer would be able to determine, prior to approaching the vehicle, if the person who registered the vehicle has a communication impediment and therefore avert miscommunication to the extent possible. However, under this framework, the officer would not be able to determine if the person who registered the car is the driver until examining the person’s driver’s license.

To the extent possible, making the CIPO program and driver registration program parallel would be helpful to both people wishing to identify themselves as having a communication impediment as well as law enforcement officers. Such an alignment would include these recommendations:

  • Both programs should follow the same guidelines to verify that an individual has a communication impediment. Currently, the CIPO program provides that only a licensed physician can provide verification of an impediment and the “health condition” associated with it. SB 976, on the other hand, provides that a physician must perform verification for individuals with physical conditions but that a physician, psychologist, or mental health professional can perform the assessment of a person with a mental condition causing a communication impediment. A system in which physical and mental conditions that are associated with communication impediments are subject to verification by different types of health staff based on the program is confusing and should be standardized.
  • Since the value of collecting information about an individual’s specific diagnosis is questionable, merely stipulating “health related communication impediment” in the registration process should be sufficient with verification from a physician. In some cases, knowing the specific condition is germane, such as in mutism, in which the individual cannot communicate verbally at all. In other cases, however, knowing a person’s specific diagnosis is not useful–and might indeed lead to additional confusion–unless the law enforcement officer has been trained on how to interact with an individual who has one or more types of communication impediments that are associated with specific diagnoses.
  • Privacy protections should be consistent across programs. Currently the DPS website states that medical information provided under CIPO “is not protected and is subject to release under the Public Information Act.” We appreciate that SB 976, alternatively, would protect this information and states “Information supplied to the department relating to an applicant’s health condition is for the confidential use of the department and the Department of Public Safety and may not be disclosed to any person.”

502.261(c) of SB 976 would require the Department of Public Safety to establish the system for alerting a peace officer that the operator of a stopped vehicle may have a health condition that may impede communication. This implementation, or some future modification, should be undertaken in such a manner as to provide protection from disclosure of all confidential medical information regardless of whether it was provided through CIPO or through the vehicle registration process.

Respectfully submitted,

Linda Logan, MPAff
Public Policy Specialist
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities