The human rights of persons with disabilities in CT are jeopardized due to a misguided proposal from the governor's office.
Governor Malloy is proposing to consolidate the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (P&A) and the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) into a new agency called the Department of Human Rights, Protection and Advocacy.
For people with disabilities, this proposal is a major step backward, as it will deprive them of access to a truly independent source of advocacy and safeguarding against abuse and neglect. In fact, it may cause federal agencies to defund the eight federally mandated P&A programs that the Office of Protection and Advocacy currently operates in Connecticut, and to also defund other disability programs that are conditioned on the state having an independent P&A.
The rationale for creating this new, merged agency – that both OPA and CHRO deal with civil and human rights – fails to understand the completely different roles these two agencies play, and their need to be structurally and organizationally separate.
OPA is an advocacy and safeguarding agency, recognized by the Federal Government as the designated Protection and Advocacy system in Connecticut. As required by federal law, OPA actively and zealously represents people with disabilities and investigates allegations of abuse and neglect.
The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is an adjudicatory agency that receives complaints of discrimination, conducts reviews and formal fact-finding processes, and ultimately adjudicates those complaints. In order to be fair to all parties, it must remain neutral while it conducts its fact-finding and adjudication processes.
Merging the two agencies creates numerous conflicts of interest and weakens the identity of both agencies. In fact, OPA sometimes provides legal representation to people with disabilities who file complaints with CHRO, and may even have to appeal a CHRO decision to court.
People with disabilities in CT depend on the advocacy and safeguarding services that the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities provides. These can be lifesaving services for some individuals. If these advocacy services are removed or weakened, then people with disabilities in CT will have no source of independent advocacy to which they can turn for help in protecting them against abuse and neglect and advocating for their rights.
This proposal is an especially bad idea for people with disabilities because it takes away OPA’s independence. Under the proposal, the Director of Protection and Advocacy would be appointed by, and report to, the Executive Director of the new Department. The new agency’s Executive Director would also get to approve all Protection and Advocacy budget requests and expenditures, even for lawsuits and investigations. This would be a huge step backward from the independence necessary for OPA to be effective. We need an independent and effective Protection and Advocacy agency in Connecticut. Please sign this petition and urge Governor Malloy NOT to implement this proposal.