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Kansas lawmaker says disabled people “can’t do anything” in House committee discussion

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – A Kansas lawmaker’s comments about people with disabilities have drawn the ire of state defenders.

“I have warned previous conference speakers in the past about dragging job shelters through the mud, but they came here and did it anyway,” Rep. Tarwater said during a hearing for the Committee on Commerce, Labor and the economic development of the Chamber. “These shelters perform a good function for these disabled people. They are people who can’t really do anything. And if you delete programs like that, they will rot at home. There is no place to go. They are taken care of. They are fed. They have somewhere to go and be functional and they are happy. But when we get here and start dragging them through the mud, I don’t support this amendment because I think we need to support those companies.”

The committee’s discussion turned to House Bill 2275, legislation that would expand eligibility for the state disability tax credit. Rep. Tarwater opposed an amendment that would exclude work shelters that pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage. You can see the full hearing here.

The Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities condemned the remarks, calling them unacceptable from a state leader who oversees business and economic development. KCDD says people with disabilities have a right to earn adequate pay for real work and lists the group as the largest untapped workforce in Kansas.

“Tarwater’s comments are unacceptable, derogatory and wholly inappropriate,” said Sara Hart Weir. “Especially from her perspective as chairman of the Kansas House Committee which she oversees issues related to trade, labor and economic development. People with disabilities are the largest population of individuals with untapped talent in Kansas and throughout the country. We should work with our lawmakers to promote federal and state solutions that solve the unemployment crisis in the disability community and enable people with disabilities to live lives of passion and opportunity, not of poverty, discrimination and segregation. KCDD maintains a zero tolerance policy for this type of ridicule and offense from anyone.”

The Disabled Rights Center of Kansas has emphasized that disabled workers can thrive outside their homes, while President Rocky Nichols has asked Rep. Tarwater to apologize, correct what he calls mistakes, and support the amendment in question.

“Kansas’ disabled people were also particularly disturbed by President Tarwater’s comments that without sheltered shops they will ‘rot at home’ and ‘there is no place to go.’ This is also simply not true. The truth is, Kansans with disabilities range across the state and are more independent today than they have ever been in the past. People with disabilities who are not in a sheltered laboratory are not “rotting at home”. In fact, they thrive. I’m out and about in the community. Indeed, people with disabilities who work outside sheltered workshops are paid at least minimum wage and often much more. Therefore, those who work outside the sheltered shop have much more money available to go where they want. They are not “rotting”. The opposite is true: they are succeeding and living the American dream.

You can read the full statement from the DRC here.

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