Senate bill would make disabilities workforce council more permanent

Charged with boosting employment opportunities for people with disabilities

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – A bill to establish a more permanent disabilities workforce council within the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation received approval Tuesday during a Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee meeting.

Senate Bill 104, which passed 9-0, would establish the Employment First Council as an advisory council that’s charged with boosting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Its members would advise those in the executive and legislative branches of government.

“Basically, it’s the idea that everyone has the right to work, and this includes people with significant disabilities,” Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, told committee members.

Carroll, who is sponsoring the measure, said the council was first established in 2018 through an executive order by former Gov. Matt Bevin. It has been reestablished each year during Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration. Carroll said the bill would codify this council going forward.

“As most of you know, part of my mission while I am here in Frankfort serving in the Kentucky state Senate is to be a voice for those children and adults with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth,” Carroll said. “And this is one of the bills along those lines that will help to foster employment for those folks.”

Johnny Collett, from the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, said disabilities affect many people in the commonwealth, and they should have the opportunity to have real jobs with real wages.

“Disability impacts one in three Kentuckians, so our commonwealth has among the highest rate of people with disabilities in the nation, and at the same time, we have among the lowest rate of people with disabilities who are employed,” Collett said.

Only about one-third of Kentuckians with disabilities are employed, and that compares to about 75 percent of those without disabilities, he said.

“These are economic development issues, these are Kentucky challenges, but they’re also Kentucky opportunities,” Collett said.

Collett was joined by Katie Wolf Whaley in offering testimony. She co-chairs Kentucky’s Employment First Council.

“When we talk about Employment First in Kentucky, as you said, here in Kentucky and across the country we are talking about delivering meaningful employment, fair wages and career advancement for people with disabilities regardless of the type of disability,” Whaley said.

Kentucky’s Employment First policy first grew out of the work of the former Work Matters Task Force, which focused on improving work outcomes for key populations including people with disabilities, she said.

Carroll said plans are to first get the council codified and then perhaps during the interim period work on some legislation and other measures to strengthen it.

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