Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet led sixteen Senate colleagues to reintroduce the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act. The bill would strengthen the civil right of Americans with disabilities to receive long-term services and supports (LTSS) in the setting of their choice. Colorado U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper is a cosponsor of the legislation.
In 1991, Latonya Reeves fled a nursing home facility in Tennessee to move to Colorado so she could live independently while still accessing the care she needed. She then made it her mission to help other individuals with disabilities live independently within their own communities. Latonya passed away this year on January 9, 2023. This legislation, named in her honor, would strengthen the federally protected right of individuals with disabilities to receive LTSS and to be meaningfully integrated into their own community.
“Like too many other Americans with disabilities, Latonya Reeves was institutionalized for years and unable to exercise her constitutionally-protected freedom to live on her own, until she moved to Colorado,” said Bennet. “This bill honors Latonya’s legacy of fighting for others by ensuring that people with disabilities can live independently and still access the care they need.”
“I am honored for the bill to be named after me, and just want other people to get out of nursing homes. Thank you, Senator Bennet, for your support,” said Latonya Reeves in 2021.
In the United States, over a quarter of individuals, or 67 million people, are living with a disability. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. (Olmstead) that individuals with disabilities have a qualified right under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to receive supports and services while living in the community of their choosing. This landmark decision has assured people that they will not be forced into institutions, including psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes.
The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act would:
- Establish a comprehensive State planning requirement with enforceable and measurable objectives to transition individuals with disabilities out of institutions and into the most integrated setting, if they choose that transition;
- Prevent State governments and insurers from engaging in discriminatory practices, policies, or rules that would prevent an eligible individual from receiving community-based LTSS;
- Identify and address disparities in the provision of community-based LTSS; and
- Accelerate State compliance with the integration mandate of the ADA.
The bill would guarantee minimum requirements for coverage of LTSS, regulated by the Attorney General. Public entities and LTSS insurance providers would be required to conduct evaluations of their current practices and policies, identify current gaps in their systems, and implement a transition plan that addresses barriers to community living. The Department of Health and Human Services will be responsible for providing technical assistance, reviewing, and approving these transition plans.
“With the shift in the Supreme Court, it is clear that civil rights must be underpinned by something more than a court decision. At some point the Supreme Court will revisit the Olmstead decision and could wipe out decades of progress in shifting from institutional placement to supporting seniors and people with disabilities in the community. So now, more than ever, we need the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act to ensure that Disabled people and seniors have an enforceable civil right to Disability Freedom. We are profoundly grateful to Senator Bennet and his leadership,” said Dawn Russell, an ADAPT activist who has spent more than 30 years fighting for freedom.
“Show and Tell fully supports the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act. This piece of legislation will allow people with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) to live quality lives in the community of their choice. Finally, access to Long Term Support and Services that are person-centered, self-directed, culturally responsive, and comprehensive. Currently, many people with I/DD and their families/caregivers have to constantly fight for services that they are eligible for. The crazy bureaucracy, the nonsensical rules that families had no part in creating, the exhaustion and uncompensated effort families must endure to keep their loved ones from being in an institution is far from equitable or inclusive. But, there is hope with the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act where our voices were heard, heeded, and acted upon. Nothing about us without us,” said Yvette Burkhalter, Executive Director of Show and Tell, a Colorado Community Parent Resource Center and Family-to-Family Health Information Center.
“Jewish Family Service of Colorado (JFS) enthusiastically supports the adoption and passage of The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act of 2023. As a longstanding leader and provider of Disability Services, we strongly believe that individuals with disabilities should have the autonomy, independence, and freedom to live in their desired location and be integrated in the communities they live. This legislation is a matter of civil rights for those with disabilities,” said Linda Foster, President and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Colorado.
“Housing is a human right. The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act (LFRA) introduced by Rep. Cohen and Sen. Bennet emphasizes that this right includes community-integrated housing, with all necessary supports for those who need them. The LFRA is crucial to push back against the trend at the state and local level to increase forced institutionalization of unhoused persons with mental disabilities, and reaffirm that everyone deserves a safe, dignified place to call home,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director of National Homelessness Law Center.