Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rosa's Law, which takes R-word out of federal government language, passes House of Representatives

From the office of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D- Md.) on Sept. 22:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D- Md.) announced that her bill introduced to eliminate the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal education, health and labor laws passed the House on Sept. 16 by unanimous consent.

It passed the Senate last month, and will now go to President Obama for his signature. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was one of the original co-sponsors.

“This law is about families fighting for the respect and dignity of their loved ones,” Senator Mikulski said. “This change will have a positive effect on more than 6 million Americans.”

A family in Edgewater, Maryland provided the inspiration for the law. Nina Marcellino is the mother of four children, including Rosa (pictured), a child with Down syndrome. Last year, Nina learned that Rosa had been labeled retarded at school. Nina didn’t allow the R-word in her house, and none of her children described their sister that way. Nina teamed up with other parents and her state delegate to introduce a bill to change the terminology in Maryland state law. Before the bill was brought up for consideration in the Maryland General Assembly, they held a hearing on the implications of changing the term.

There were several witnesses at that hearing, but the testimony that had the greatest impact was given by an 11-year-old boy: Rosa’s brother, Nick. “What you call people is how you treat them,” Nick said. “What you call my sister is how you will treat her. If you believe she’s ‘retarded,’ it invites taunting, stigma. It invites bullying and it also invites the slammed doors of being treated with respect and dignity.”

Senator Mikulski met Nina at a roundtable discussion on special education last April. Nina told the Senator about Rosa’s Law and their plans to bring it up for consideration in the state Assembly.Senator Mikulski promised Nina that if the state law passed the Assembly, she’d take it to the Senate floor. Two weeks later, Rosa’s Law was unanimously approved by the General Assembly and then signed into law by Governor O’Malley.

Rosa’s Law changes the phrase “mentally retarded” to “an individual with an intellectual disability” in health, education and labor law. It makes the language in federal law consistent with that used by the Centers for Disease Control, the health arm of the United Nations, and the White House through the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

“I’m pleased that the House has approved Rosa’s Law, and hope the President will sign it quickly," Senator Enzi said. "This bill is simple in nature but profound in what it will do when it is enacted. For far too long we have used hurtful words like ‘mental retardation’ or ‘MR’ in our federal statutes to refer to those living with intellectual disabilities. While the way people feel is important, the way people are treated is equally important. Rosa’s Law will make a greatly-needed change that should have been made well before today – and it will encourage us to treat people the way they would like to be treated.”

“The Marcellinos’ story is a perfect example of effective citizen advocacy. They pulled together to pull us all to another way of thinking,” Senator Mikulski said. “The bipartisan support of this bill shows that this is an issue where we can tip our hats to boys and girls with intellectual disabilities by checking our party hats at the door.”

The House bill had 72 cosponsors. The law does not affect any services, rights, responsibilities or educational opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.