The Daily Record

Political Forum Focuses On Disabled

Five Democrats running for Assembly discuss issues with advocates

Daily Record — Friday, October 21, 2005

BY MICHAEL DAIGLE
DAILY RECORD

MORRIS TWP. — The cost and availability of health care, stem cell research, transportation, housing and polling place accessibility were the top issues raised by a small group of advocates for the disabled who met with five Democratic candidates in three of the region's state Assembly districts.

Ev Liebman, a New Jersey Citizen Action coordinator, said Wednesday that all the candidates in Morris County Assembly districts were invited to the forum, but no Republicans confirmed they would attend.

The candidates met with representatives of the Morris County Monday Morning Network and New Jersey Citizen Action, advocacy groups for the handicapped, at the county's cultural center Wednesday. In attendance were Thomas Boyle of Vernon and Brian Murphy of Stanhope, running for two-year seats in the 24th Assembly District; Janice Schindler of Mountain Lakes, one of two challengers in the 25th District; and Avery Hart of Kinnelon and Kate McCabe of Chatham, running in the 26th District.

Hart said Republicans have been avoiding meeting in public with Democrats and even left a debate in Denville before it ended. It is something the voters should note, she said.

Accessible polls

Sonya Burroughs, representing Morris Monday Morning, said voting is difficult for her because polling places are not as accessible for her in a wheelchair as they are for people who can walk.

Marilyn Carpinteyro of Citizen Action said voting booths are nearly inaccessible for the visually impaired.

Boyle said that, in Vernon, there is no separate registration table or voting machine for people with disabilities. In a recent election, he said, workers had to carry a voting machine to a disabled person so they could vote. He said there are ways to make polling places more accessible by removing barriers, something he pledged to address if elected.

Handicapped accessibility in general in public buildings is an issue, Boyle said, because governments can renovate sections of a building at a time and thus avoid upgrading to federal standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We have to close the loopholes for public buildings," he said.

Hart said she wanted to remind everyone on one "elusive, obvious truth that, even if they are fully abled, that at some point in their life they could need the types of services that the state's handicapped population needs now."

McCabe said transportation and housing concerns are parts of the same issue. Creating housing that is affordable to disabled people can be included in efforts to build housing in towns with shopping areas and services that would allow better access to public transportation. The plans would require higher density development, but would help break the region's dependence on the automobile.

Quality of life

"It would be more accessible and create a better quality of life," McCabe said.

Murphy said Stanhope built a five-person group home to help satisfy its state affordable-housing requirement. He said the town has a vacant lot and would like to build another.

Schindler said her opponents -- Republicans Richard Merkt and Michael Patrick Carroll -- have voted against bills that would promote affordable housing.

"We will not get a chance to reform, to solve things like affordable housing without new state representation,"Schindler said. She said she would seek a spot on the Legislature's joint committee on affordable housing, the creation of which Merkt and Carroll opposed.

Boyle, noting the absence of an audience, suggested that technology would be used to get the information to the disabled. The Internet could be used, he said, to set up Web casts that could be used for town meeting-style sessions.

Burroughs asked the candidates what they could do about the cost of health care. She lives in a group home and, after paying expenses, including health care, she said, has little money left at the end of the month.

Schindler said state support of stem cell research is a big issue and offers hope that cures for diseases that lead to disabilities. The funding also would produce jobs and could spur economic growth which, in turn, could raise state income that could be used to help lower the cost of health care.

Liebman asked whether the candidates support a single-payer health care system.

The candidates said that is where the county's health care system is headed, as corporations drop employees from company health care plans --employees who end up applying for help through state-supported insurance plans.

McCabe said she and her husband own a small business that cannot afford to offer health care to is employees because of the cost.

It might be the time to examine how to modify health insurance plans to lower costs, she said.

Burroughs asked the candidates to try an enact a bill that would raise the $35 monthly stipend for patients in state mental hospitals or nursing homes to buy personal items like toothpaste, socks and clothes.

She said a bill was drawn up a decade ago seeking to raise the stipend to $50, but it found no sponsors.

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