Representatives Neal Collins and Mandy Powers Norrell stand on the Statehouse steps and speak for Advocacy Day for Access & Independence 2019.

Legislative Updates

Prefiled legislation to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities

COLUMBIA, SC (Dec. 12, 2019) – A bill prefiled on Wednesday by Able South Carolina, Rep. Neal Collins and Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell aims to create more employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

While 32 states have adopted policies to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities, and the federal government provides the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to employers who employ individuals with physical or mental disabilities, South Carolina doesn’t currently offer any hiring guidelines or incentives to encourage employers to recruit employees with disabilities. The Employment First Initiative Act (H.4768) aims to change that.

“This legislation would be a positive and much needed step for advancing the employment of South Carolinians with disabilities, and we look forward to having these discussions at the Statehouse in the new session. South Carolina has been behind other states for far too long, and it is time that we develop an employment culture that truly includes all people, with and without disabilities.”

Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able South Carolina

A 2019 state report compiled by the Employment First Study Committee demonstrated both the need for and the positive impact of employing individuals with disabilities in South Carolina. Currently, of the 727,702 South Carolina residents who have a disability, 67% are unemployed—the 6th highest unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities in the nation.

A graphic of the United States, with 32 states highlighted in blue to indicate that they have Employment First. The remaining 18 states, including South Carolina, who do not have Employment First, are in gray.

If passed, the bill would help to fill this large employment gap in the state. The act would establish a commission that would recommend strategies to help state agencies, local government, and the private sector adopt a multifaceted approach to support individuals with disabilities obtaining employment.

Consisting of 17 appointed members, the South Carolina Employment First Oversight Commission would also track state agencies’ progress toward implementing aspects of the bill. The findings would be issued in an annual report to the governor and members of the South Carolina General Assembly.

“In a time where employers are struggling to fill vacant positions, we pose an easy solution to their problem,” said Robbie Kopp, director of advocacy at Able SC. “People with disabilities should have equal opportunities to work. This bill would help employers reach that untapped workforce.”

Persons with Disabilities Right to Parent Act

On May 11, 2017, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed House Bill 3538 which amended South Carolina Code to add a new chapter, the “Persons with Disabilities Right to Parent Act”. Able SC worked with partners including Department of Social Services (DSS) and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. to draft a bill which codified best practices for ensuring the protection of the rights of individuals with disabilities.

The law requires the DSS, law enforcement, and the family and probate courts, among others, to protect the parenting rights of people with disabilities by establishing requirements and safeguards applicable in child custody, child protection and probate guardianship proceedings to ensure that persons with disabilities are not denied the right to parent or to have custody of or visitation with a child because of a disability; and to prohibit child placing agencies and adoption service providers from denying persons with a disability the right to access services because of the person’s disability. Additionally, the law prohibits termination of parental rights solely on the basis of a disability. Prior to this law passing, South Carolina had legislation allowing disability as the sole grounds for removing and terminating parent rights, even without evidence of abuse or neglect.

South Carolina Department of Social Services Director Susan Alford said, “The Department of Social Service’s mission is to protect the safety and welfare of children and strengthen South Carolina families. H.3538 affirms the Department’s commitment to fulfill that mission without regard to a parent or guardian’s disability and underscores that the focus in all of the Department’s proceedings should be on the best interests of a child. Every decision we make should be premised on whether an individual, disabled or not, can protect the safety and wellbeing of a child. We appreciate the support of Governor McMaster, Rep. James Smith, Sen. Katrina Shealy, and the General Assembly for their support of H.3538.”

Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able SC said, “Able SC looks forward to working with the SC Department of Social Services to ensure that the rights of parents with disabilities are protected. People with disabilities, including physical, visual, intellectual, developmental, hearing, psychiatric and other disabilities have the same right to bear and raise children, become foster parents, and adopt a child as any other citizen. The new law also helps with removing the negative perception of what people with disabilities can do. As an organization run and operated by the majority of people with disabilities, we are so thankful for the General Assembly for their leadership in supporting this important disability rights legislation.”

“It was an honor to work with Able SC and partners to enact this important piece of legislation. It’s exciting for South Carolina to be at the forefront around this issue and to advance disability rights in our great state.” said SC Representative James Smith.

Able South Carolina is so appreciative of all the supporters, especially the bill sponsors, Representative James Smith and Senator Katrina Shealy; the General Assembly; The Department of Social Services; Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc.; The SC Developmental Disabilities Council; American Bar Association; Disabled Parenting Project; National Council on Disability; Through the Looking Glass; and the many parents with disabilities who shared their stories and provided testimony.

More Information about the Persons with Disabilities Right to Parent Act.

South Carolina Employment First Initiative Act passed with an amendment

The South Carolina Employment First Initiative Act (H.4093) was introduced by Representative Neal Collins in the South Carolina House of Representatives on April 4, 2017.

The proposed bill, which Able SC supported, was to amend the code of laws of South Carolina, 1976, to enact the “Employment First Initiative Act” by adding chapter 5 to title 41 to provide necessary definitions, to establish policies supportive of competitive and integrated employment of individuals with disabilities, to create related responsibilities for state agencies and political subdivisions of the state, to create the South Carolina Employment First Oversight Commission, and to provide for the composition, function, and duties of the Commission.

During the third reading on the Senate floor, there was a significant amendment made to the original bill, with which the House concurred.  The amended bill was signed by SC Governor Henry McMaster on May 18, 2018. Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able SC stated, “Although the amendment did not create permanent legislation, we are pleased that the SC General Assembly passed legislation to establish the SC Employment First Study Committee, which will evaluate the need for further legislation that would support policies for competitive and integrated employment for individuals with disabilities. We will continue advocating to improve employment outcomes for South Carolinians with disabilities during this process.” Six individuals will be appointed to serve on the Study Committee. A full report from the Study Committee was issued May 1, 2019.

More information about the SC Employment First Initiative Act can be found here.

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