House Delays Closure of Austin SSLC

Amendment scraps SSLC closure

Photo by Jana Birchum

House amendments have helped prolong the closure of the Austin State Supported Living Center, for now.

While Senate Bill 204 would have forced the historic home for hundreds of residents with intellectual and physical disabilities to close its doors, a late-filed amendment by Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, removed any mention of the Austin SSLC closure from the entire bill.*

Guardians of Austin SSLC residents have stood united to fight the eviction of their loved ones. Families argue their medically fragile residents may be placed in danger if moved to a community or group home, or asked to transfer to an SSLC outside of the city limits. Supporters of closure point to past SSLC violations and claim the demand for state supported living care is low. Despite guardian pleas, the Senate approved SB 204 – a Department of Aging and Disabilities restructuring bill – by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, in a 26-5 vote in April, as the Chronicle previously reported. The House companion, sponsored by Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, won House approval on Saturday afternoon (after several postponements) in a 122-3 vote.

Before King's provision came to the floor, an early amendment by Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, sought to delay the closure by two years. Workman’s amendment, which passed in a 127-10 vote, would have moved the closure date from 2017 to 2019. It also requires DADS to craft a feasibility study to determine alternate uses for the SSLC, including combining its services with that of the Austin State Hospital. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, initially drafted a similar amendment but didn’t bring it to a vote due to lack of support from his Senate colleagues. “The deal we have struck is a much better deal,” said Workman, before a final vote. “It protects all state supported living centers and takes Austin off closure.”

"I was amazed that Rep. Workman and Rep. King were able to stop the closure, when it seemed so many wanted the ASSLC closed," said Judy Straughan, the mother of a 45-year-old medically fragile SSLC resident, in a message. "A burden has been lifted from my shoulders. God has answered our prayers." However the fight isn't over for guardians: Differences in the Senate and House versions will be hashed out in conference committee before the session wraps up in the next week.

*An earlier version of this post did not include Rep. King's amendment. An updated version also includes quotes from guardian, Judy Straughan.

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