New Legislative Committee Examines State’s Disability Services

By Sen. Becky Duncan Massey

About the Author

Sen. Becky Duncan Massey was elected in 2011 to the 107th General  Assembly in a special election to represent Knox County.  She was re-elected in 2012 and in 2016.  Sen. Massey recently retired as executive director of Sertoma Center in Knoxville, an agency serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities providing vocational, community and residential services for more than 100 individuals.  Sen. Massey was with Sertoma for 24 years.  While at Sertoma, she was instrumental in creating and developing the College of Direct Support, an online training program used for direct support staff nationally.  She served on the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislators “Work Matters- A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities.”  Sen. Massey has also testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions on federal regulations that keep individuals with disabilities in poverty.

Our hope is that this blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

I am pleased to be co-chairing the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Disability Services.  This special committee was appointed by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell and is authorized and directed to study, evaluate, analyze, and undertake a comprehensive review of services available for people with disabilities in Tennessee and how to improve quality, access, and affordability of such services.

Rep. Kevin Brooks is serving as co-chair with me.  Other legislative members of the committee are:

  • Mike Bell, R-Riceville
  • Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma
  • Sara Kyle, D-Memphis
  • Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield
  • Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory
  • Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield
  • Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett
  • Debra Moody, R-Covington

I know that, due to quality-of-life care and quality of medical care, our Tennesseans with disabilities are living long, full lives. Due to that, we are having more and more people who need disability services in our state. It is imperative that we provide these services in as efficient and effective manner as possible. This was the reason that I advocated for the formation of this committee. We are looking at the available services, the service gaps, and what is working well and what needs improvement. The end goal is to come up with potential recommendations to present to the incoming governor for possible implementation.

We had our first meeting in December.  At that meeting, there was a presentation on the overview of the disability service system in Tennessee.  Presenters were Wanda Wills, executive director of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, Carrie Hobbs Guiden, executive director of the Arc Tennessee and Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition. Click here to watch the recording of this meeting. 

Our second meeting was held on Feb. 1.  At this meeting, we had presentations from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Children’s Services, and the Department of Education regarding their services.  We also had a presentation by representatives of the Tennessee Community Organizations regarding the direct support staff crisis. TNCO is a professional trade organization for Home and Community Based Services Providers.  The member agencies provide supported employment, residential services, day services, personal assistance, etc. for Tennesseans with intellectual, developmental and age-related disabilities.

We plan on meeting monthly.  Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 5 at noon.  At that meeting, we will have presentations from TennCare and the Department of Human Services.  We will also have Bobby Silverstein, a disability attorney from Washington, D.C., presenting. Mr. Silverstein has more than 40 years’ experience in the disability field, including work on the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The focus of this meeting will be disability employment.  You can go to the Tennessee General Assembly website (www.capitol.tn.gov) and watch the committee meeting live or as recorded.  The recording from the last meeting can be found at http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=397&clip_id=14269.

Going forward we still need to hear from the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Deputy Gov. Jim Henry is going to present on the history of disability services in Tennessee state government.  We also will potentially be hearing reports from some of our disability-related councils, family members, consumers and providers.  The plan is to have a hearing in both East and West Tennessee to enable people to testify about their firsthand experiences accessing disability services.   We want to know what is working, what is falling through the cracks, and where we can make improvements.  If you are interested in testifying at one of the regional meetings, please email me at sen.becky.massey@capitol.tn.gov.  We will be in touch with more information when these meetings are scheduled.

I want to thank my fellow legislators for their commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities.

(From Janet: I want to thank Sen. Massey for taking the time during the hectic days and evenings of the current legislative session to write about this committee for “Rise to Work.” I also appreciate her being able to share her knowledge as a longtime agency provider with her legislative colleagues. Lastly, I hope some of you will email Sen. Massey and take the opportunity to testify before the committee, to share your stories and your experiences. Thanks!)