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Originally published Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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Editorial: Senate should protect people with disabilities

Two bills that would cost the state nothing would do a lot to prevent Washington’s most vulnerable citizens from abuse in supported living settings.

Seattle Times Editorial

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IN the last days of this legislative session, Washington lawmakers should act to seek justice for people with developmental disabilities who suffer neglect in supported living settings.

The state House belatedly passed legislation to help last week, and the Senate should vote on these measures before Thursday’s scheduled adjournment.

Advocates for people with disabilities have reported horrific examples of negligence in recent years, from caretakers forgetting to refill their clients’ prescriptions to deaths from heat stroke and poisoning.

Providers must be held accountable for these failures.

HB 1574 is one way to reduce the backlog of complaints against supported-living facilities statewide. Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) would be able to charge providers certification fees to hire more investigators. A federal Medicaid program not only pays the providers back, but also leverages enough matching funds for up to eight additional investigators.

Currently, the state’s five investigators cannot keep up with the number of complaints. A startling 2012 Disability Rights Washington report found in 2011 that 34 percent of complaints were closed without a proper investigation; 85 percent were not responded to within nine to 12 months.

In 2013, the House passed a version of HB 1574.

This session, another bill, HB 2634, giving DSHS more options to sanction violators, passed the House unanimously. Unlike adult and group homes under DSHS’ watch, supported-living caretakers are either cited or shut down when they don't comply with state regulations.

Under the bill, an “intermediate” set of options would allow the state to fine and place conditions on providers so that clients — many of them with severe medical conditions — are not left without care.

Neither measure requires taxpayer money. Both are widely endorsed by stakeholders and state officials.

Now they need the Senate's help to go further.

Failure to act now subjects vulnerable citizens to another year of waiting and possibly more abuse.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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