Jindal signs bill to aid those with disabilities
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 432 into law at Willis-Knighton Monday afternoon.
The bill, authored by Sen. Sherri Buffington, prohibits any person with a disability from being denied admittance to public facilities because of that person’s disability, whether that disability is visible or not.
“What this means is, this bill will allow those individuals easier access to public buildings,” Jindal said. “It will ensure that they get the assistance they need, including canes, wheelchairs and other services.
“This legislation extends current law to include all forms of disability, including autism, psychiatric disability, post-traumatic stress disability and traumatic brain injury.”
Some disabilities are visible, and some are not. “That’s what makes this legislation so important,” Jindal said. “This helps everybody with disabilities to make sure they have the support and services they need. It may be a service dog, it may be a wheelchair, it may be a cane. The important thing is they’ll be able to access public facilities. They’ll no longer be able to be denied access or entry to those facilities.”
Dozer Reed, a veteran advocate with the Wounded Warrior Project, was among the guests present for the bill signing. “His story is one of the reasons this bill is becoming law in the state of Louisiana,” Jindal said.
Reed served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. He was injured in a convoy, suffering fractures to two thoracic vertebrae along with spinal cord damage. He has since had at least six surgeries to his back and now travels with a service dog, Leyna.
“He recently gave his testimony to the Health and Welfare Committee, where this bill was being debated during this last legislative session,” the governor said. “Dozer truly is an example of the best and the bravest that Louisiana has to offer.”
Jindal said, “It is so important that we support all persons with disabilities, including our veterans. This bill will ensure that all persons with disabilities are treated fairly, equally and with dignity. We’re thrilled to be able to make these changes through this law so that we can ensure that all individuals are no longer denied entry or access to public facilities.”
Sen. Buffington, the author of SB 432, said, “In 22 years, this is probably one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation that I’ve ever handled. It’s not about us, it’s about these veterans and what we can do to give back — not only to the veterans but to their families.”
Service dogs like Leyna, who assists Reed, she said, can be taught to retrieve certain items like artificial limbs, “to give that soldier a little bit of confidence when they have to reenter a building.”
“Many of the veterans you see will have visible scars, and unfortunately, some of them have scars that we don’t know about,” Buffington said. “And so for veterans who have traumatic brain injury, where these dogs can serve as a balance dog for them. That, too, just gives them another step toward independence.”
The dogs are trained by inmates at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, La. The inmates, she said, “are certainly gaining a valuable skill, but most of all, they're learning to give back, and they’re learning to serve and to take care of our veterans, which, I have to tell you, is just the heart and soul of this bill.”
Reed said, “Leyna has been truly a blessing. … I’ve had moments when I couldn’t really move. They weren’t sure how well I’d even be able to walk.”
When Reed returned from the Middle East, “I couldn’t go places. I wanted to be home, I didn’t want to be around anybody. I had trouble talking to my family. I was just basically imploding.
“And then Leyna, she made me feel more comfortable around people. I was able to start going into places like Wal-Mart. And working with her and having her with me and working with the Wounded Warrior Project, it gave me an opportunity to talk about PTDS and about the insane numbers” — Reed’s voice then began to crack with emotion — “of warriors that we continue to lose.
“But with these animals, we’re able not only to function better as an individual, but it helps us when we’re in a group. Leyna’s notorious for picking up on the emotions of other veterans and other veterans around us, and she’ll respond to them as well. It’s a comforting fact. It allows us to go on and to stay here and to be effective as mentors or as humans, as Americans. This bill, what it’s doing for us, is truly, truly remarkable.”