In response to an occurrence that happened this Wednesday during a Senate Health and Long Term Care Executive Session, we have released the statement below.
The use of the “R” word by Senator Rivers at a public hearing was harmful, disheartening, contrary to the Senate Code of Conduct and should not be tolerated. Senator Rivers and the Senators who failed to call it out in the moment let an important constituency down. An apology is an important first step and we appreciate that Senator Rivers made a public one at the subsequent committee meeting. We know how hard that is to do and it is important to acknowledge her willingness to do so. But as Senator Rivers expressed in her apology, it is not just about what was said at a past committee meeting. More importantly, it is about what will be done to prevent a similar occurrence from happening in the future.
The Senate has a long way to go in being fully accessible, welcoming, and safe for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. People with disabilities want to be included like anyone else interested in participating in the legislative process. What happened in the hearing on Wednesday discouraged, rather than encouraged, participation. It was a step in the wrong direction. We understand that people make mistakes, even Senators, and when they do it is important to apologize. But apologies are not enough. The Senate can and must do better. They can take constructive steps that will minimize the possibility of this happening again.
We know the harmful choice of words in this circumstance does not reflect the values of the majority and minority caucuses. The public and particularly the disability community call upon Minority Leader Braun and Majority Leader Billig to issue statements that reflect this value. We call on both to ensure that committee leadership and membership have the training and authority to hold their colleagues accountable to the Code of Conduct and are prepared to act in the moment if similar situations occur.
We hope the legislature will use this as a learning opportunity and look for ways they can improve the accessibility and inclusivity of their processes so that the legislature is more welcoming and respectful of people with disabilities.