Scott Wilk & Tom Lackey: It's time to keep the Lanterman promise

[This opinion editorial was originally published in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal]

Growing up, parents teach their children at a very young age the importance of keeping a promise. As elected representatives in the California State Assembly, we wish that were the case in Sacramento.

Over 50 years ago, the state of California made a promise to individuals with developmental disabilities that would provide funding for community-based programs allowing them to stay in their homes instead of being institutionalized.

Since that promise's inception, those individuals have counted on the state to follow through on its commitment through the Lanterman Act.

The ground-breaking Lanterman Act — named after Republican legislator Frank Lanterman, who originally fought for its passage — was signed into law in the 1960s by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. It declared that all people have the rights to dignity, privacy and humane care, public education and social interaction.

Unfortunately, despite California having record tax revenues and the largest budget in its history — which has grown by billions of dollars over the last couple years — these programs continue to be shortchanged. As a result, the system is on the verge of collapse.

Currently, more than a quarter-million Californians are now served by the Lanterman Act. However, meeting their needs has become increasingly difficult as programs have closed all over Los Angeles County due to shrinking support from the state.

As Republicans, we both believe in responsible budgeting and small government, but we also believe it is the duty of government to focus its limited resources on helping those who truly cannot help themselves without support.

This is why it is unacceptable that individuals with developmental disabilities have become an afterthought when prioritizing what's important to the state.

Assembly Bill 1565, which we introduced earlier this month, would increase funding to developmental services by 10 percent.

California has the money in the bank to pay for these services. The Legislative Analyst's Office has estimated the state will have close to $3.6 billion in unanticipated revenue this year. A 10 percent increase would cost roughly $309 million annually.

AB 1565 isn't just about an increase in money; it's about empowering the most vulnerable people in our state to live productive lives.

It's about letting people live in the community, rather than hiding them in developmental centers.

Advocates and the people who provide care for individuals with developmental disabilities have a right to be angry because, despite having the resources to provide a funding increase, state leaders have chosen to make additional money for the Lanterman Act contingent on enacting a new tax on health insurance.

These two issues have never been tied together before, and it is wrong to hold individuals with developmental disabilities as a hostage to pass new taxes.

This community deserves to be an annual priority in the state budget, regardless of new taxes. Period.

The services provided in a regional center setting include training, vocational and educational programs and enhancing the lives of people living with disabilities.

Through regional centers, adults with developmental disabilities are able to receive the support they need to live independent lives, teaching them everything from how to lease an apartment to how to cook, do laundry and take public transportation.

We must continue to provide assistance to help this community develop the skills that are vital to getting and sustaining jobs. Everyone deserves an opportunity.

[This opinion editorial was originally published in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal - click here to read it on the Santa Clarita Signal's website.]

The state of California has a responsibility to take care of those who can't help themselves. It's time to keep the promise of the Lanterman Act and provide the funding that is needed for programs to support individuals with developmental disabilities.

After all, we did learn the valuable lesson of keeping a promise in our adolescent years.