Saturday, January 10, 2009

Missouri Senate Bill 40 turns 30

[Crossposted from Show Me Progress]

Ronald Reagan was wrong.

Government isn’t the problem. In fact, good government can be the solution by doing things that are responsive to the needs of the citizens it exists to serve, and in so doing have a positive impact and make lives better. Missouri Senate Bill 40 is an example of what good government can do, without a lot of fanfare.

Most people, unless they have a family member with a developmental disability or they are employed in the education field, get to go through their lives without giving a first thought to SB 40, let alone a second…but for those it has served, it is a blessing.

Missouri SB 40 was passed law in 1978 and, as per tradition, became law the start of the next year, and in spite of all the good it has done, it would likely not even make it out of committee in today’s republican-controlled legislature, because it levies a tax to provide funding for residential, vocational and other programs and services that serve special needs persons and their families throughout the state.

I was in high school in one of this states poorest and most rural communities when the law was passed, and so I am old enough to remember life before PL 94-142 and SB 40. I remember a handful of families with special needs kids my age and older who never went to school a day in their lives, never developed even the most rudimentary of social skills, but instead lived their lives sequestered and hidden, seldom seen. Other babies never came home from the hospital, but were instead institutionalized at birth, and only discussed in hushed, tragic tones. I don’t fault the families - they were told that was what was best for the children, because the services to meet their needs didn’t exist at the community level.

One thing I can say with certainty. In virtually no instance were those children well served.

And it took acts of legislation to get us, as a society, to do the right thing. I am all for self-reliance, at least in my own life. But some problems require community efforts. And SB 40 is a community effort done right. May it last another thirty years.

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