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Senate Passes Intellectual Disabilities Bill

Bill removes terms such as “mental retardation” from state statutes and policies

JUNEAU-Today, the Senate passed House Bill 88, the companion bill to Senate Bill 39, which removes all statutory references to "mental retardation" and replaces it with "intellectual disability."

Senator Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, started work on the issue over the summer after learning similar legislation had already been passed in 40 other states.  Senator Meyer and Representative Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, worked closely with Dave Fleurant from the Disability Law Center of Alaska, Jim Balamaci from Special Olympics of Alaska, and Millie Ryan, formerly with the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Education and current Executive Director of REACH, to craft the legislation.

“Anyone who doesn’t see how demeaning and debilitating the ‘r’ words can be, should listen to the emotional testimony given during these committee hearings,” said Senator Meyer.  “This is great first step in creating awareness by using more inclusive and respectful terms that are ‘people first’ in our state laws and other official communications.”

“The Council is ecstatic about the passage of HB88! Language can be a powerful tool. It can inspire, motivate and uplift or it can be used to hurt, isolate and oppress,” said Teresa Holt from the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education.  “Many members of the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education have experienced -themselves or their loved ones- the negative influences of the word "retardation". Not only is it used as an insult, but it also carries a negative stereotype that influences how other view individuals with developmental disabilities, their potential and their value by society. The Council would like to thank Representative Millett and Senator Meyer for sponsoring this bill.”

The legislation provides inclusive language in the state’s statutes, while neither expanding or diminishing services, rights, responsibilities, or education opportunities for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.  The changes will make Alaska’s law consistent with federal law, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the White House through the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

“Alaska has always been a ‘people first’ state and it’s important that our statutes and policies follow those same values,” said Representative Millett.  “The terms ‘retarded’ and ‘retardation’ may have been clinical terms at one time, but now the reality is they are very insulting and degrading.”

House Bill 88, already passed by the House, will now head to Governor Parnell for his signature.

For more information, please call Edra Morledge from Senator Meyer’s office at (907) 465-4945 or Vasilios Gialopsos in Representative Millett’s office at (907) 465-3871.

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