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Lawmaker Slams Recommendation to Close Living Centers

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, says a Sunset Advisory Commission staff recommendation to close six state-supported living centers is "inaccurate" and "slanted."

Austin State-Supported Living Center.

The chairwoman of the House Committee on Public Health is calling a state agency staff report recommending the closure of six institutions for Texans with disabilities “inaccurate” and “slanted.”  

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, told the director of the Sunset Advisory Commission in a letter Friday that the agency's report issued last month “chose to ignore the systemic and under-reported failures” in group homes and that it made faulty financial assumptions.

The report said the state “can no longer afford” to operate all 13 state-supported living centers, citing “declining enrollment, skyrocketing costs and questionable quality of care.” The commission, which is charged with highlighting inefficiencies at state agencies, recommended closing the Austin living center and five to-be-determined others. It also suggested expanding state programs that help people with disabilities who live in group homes.

“I oppose these recommendations because of the one-sided nature of the Sunset report and the misguided recommendation to close six (state-supported living center) locations and place our most fragile Texans into the dangerous setting of today’s barely-regulated (Home and Community-based Services) group homes,” Kolkhorst, a former member of the Sunset Commission, wrote to commission director Ken Levine. “Putting aside the callous risk to these individuals, and their families, the ‘cost savings’ in your report are speculative.”

In the 2013 budget year, the state spent $661.9 million to operate the 13 centers, one of which is in Kolkhorst's district. As of last September, 3,649 Texans lived at the centers, down from about 5,000 in 2013.

Advocates for Texans with disabilities have long pushed for some of the living centers to close, but family members of some residents have opposed the shuttering of any of the institutions. In 2009, Texas lawmakers agreed to a $112 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over abuse and neglect at the facilities.

Legislators and citizens on the Sunset Advisory Commission last week considered the staff recommendations in public hearings. 

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