In 2018, the General Assembly approved an addition to statute to protect the rights of parents with disabilities.
Under House Bill 18-1104, parents with disabilities have due process and equal rights under the law in matters of child welfare, foster care, family law, guardianship and adoption.
CRS 24-34-805 would gain a new name, if Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, is successful with Senate Bill 165.
Disability advocate Carrie Ann Lucas died almost one year ago, the result of a treatable illness but for which she was denied appropriate medication by her health insurance provider, according to her family.
Danielson intends to rename the section of statute that deals with the rights of disabled parents after Lucas.
Lucas, an attorney, was a fierce advocate for the disabled, especially for parents. She suffered from muscular dystrophy, beginning in her teens, which eventually confined her to a wheelchair, but it didn't stop her from fighting for her rights and that of others.
Lucas founded the non-profit Disabled Parents Rights and was a member of ADAPT. In 2017, she was arrested, along with nine other ADAPT members, after a 58-hour sit-in at the office of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, to protest Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act and make substantial cuts to Medicaid. Lucas and others said those cuts would disproportionately affect the disabled.
A frequent visitor to the Capitol to testify on disability issues, Lucas spoke on behalf of HB 18-1104. She told the House Public Health and Human Services Committee during a Feb. 20 hearing that 20 years ago that a niece with a disability went into foster care. Lucas sought custody and it took 18 months because the social worker would not consider Lucas as a parent because of her own disability. "She's now 28 and thriving," Lucas said. That experience prompted Lucas to go to law school, and to become an advocate for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.
Her niece's story isn't unusual. Lucas also told the story of a deaf woman with poor English skills whose newborn son was taken away from her in the hospital because she lacked the equipment to help wake her up when the baby cried. Social services forced the woman to sign away her rights, labeling her intellectually disabled because she could not communicate and because they did not provide an interpreter. The woman went to Lucas, and it took three months to get the baby back. "She lost that three months with her son," Lucas said.
Disabilities are common in child protection cases, sometimes because of poverty, or because they need help with parenting skills, Lucas said. Even with the Americans with Disabilities Act, at that time 28 years old, parents with disabilities still do not have their full rights, she explained.
Senate Bill 165, to be known as the "Carrie Ann Lucas Parental Rights for People with Disabilities Act," will be heard on Feb. 27 in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. The one-year anniversary of Lucas' death is on Feb. 24.