House leadership faces pressure from parents/special-needs kids - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

House leadership faces pressure from parents of special-needs kids

Gina Sternfels with her son Ivan Gina Sternfels with her son Ivan
Mandeville, La. -

Some parents of disabled children are turning up the heat on state lawmakers as they bear the brunt of some surprise cuts brought on by Governor Bobby Jindal.

The governor says he's done more for the learning-disabled than anyone else, but the parents say they were counting on more.

Ivan's an autistic 9-year-old boy; he means everything to Gina Sternfels.

She said, "He needs help with social skills, he needs a job, and those things just won't happen through me."

Rena Ottallah's 8-year old daughter Dalia has hearing disabilities. Rena was one of many mothers who were stunned when Governor Jindal vetoed $4 million in funding for equipment and/or an in-home health care worker. She says she's waited seven years for help.

The governor also cut another $1 million from a family support program. He put out a statement saying that caring for the disabled is a "responsibility we take seriously."  But he said the budget required him to cut $40 million, making it difficult to expand services for people with developmental disabilities.

"We had no idea, we worked all session with lawmakers," said Liz Gary, the parent of a son with Down's syndrome.

Those pushing for a veto override session have now started a website and a petition drive, saying the governor let them down.

"I voted Jindal," said Sternfels, "But with this, I don't support him. He's not looking at the big picture."

New Orleans lawmakers were already angry about the veto of a bill that would have allowed for new developments on the riverfront.

"I was completely blindsided by the Convention Center veto," said Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans).  "There was not a word on any kind of problem, never was there any discussion."

But concerns about cuts for the learning-disabled are statewide, perhaps giving more fuel to the possibility of an override session.

"I'm going to give it some serious thought," said Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville).

"There are a lot of House members prepared to go back," said Leger, "And the votes should be there, but will the Senate go along? I don't know the answer to that."

Parents of children with disabilities are applying pressure.  They say they won't rest until the cuts are restored.

"I think [lawmakers] should find it in their heart to do a session," said Ottallah.

Governor Jindal said the cuts don't affect anyone currently getting waivers.

When the governor issued his line-item vetoes, a veto override session was automatically set for July 16. Lawmakers now have ballots that they must send in if they want to scrap an override session. If half of them mail the ballots in by July 11, the session will be cancelled. But it would still require a two-thirds vote to override any of the governor's vetoes.

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