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Will Texas Lawmakers Close Austin's School for Adults with Developmental Disabilities?

KUT News
Locals gathered at the Living Center in March for a rally protesting the residential facility's potential closure.

It's been almost 100 years since the state school opened its doors to adults with severe developmental disabilities. Today the state school is called Austin State Supported Living Center, and it's facing closure via two bills in the legislature: Senate Bill 204 and House Bill 2699.

The process started last summer when the state's Sunset Advisory Commission, the group of legislators who study which state agencies are obsolete, decided the school needed to close. Despite opposition from the parents and guardians of the 215 people who live at the school, the bills are steadily inching their way through the legislative process.

A recommendation by the Sunset Advisory Commission is not an order. But, if the bills make it to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot's desk, the order to close will be sealed.

On Thursday, SB204 and HB2699 cleared another hurdle. Supporters argue the facilities are too expensive for the state to maintain.

But Susan Payne, whose 53-year-old sister lives in the state school, hopes the bills fail somehow. For her, it would be "the right thing to do."

Payne's sister, like many of the school's residents, cannot live independently.

"She functions as a 14-month-old baby. She wears diapers, she has a seizure disorder," Payne explains.

She says a community setting would not be fitting for her sister, but that's where she would go if the state school were to close by 2017, as the bills going through the legislative process right now intend.

The 95-acre property off of MoPac and 35th Street in Austin is the only home many of the people who still live there have ever known.

Payne says the move itself could be too traumatic for her sister. "It's like transplanting a huge tree," she says. "When you transplant a 100-year-old tree, it's not going to live."

The legislative session will be done June 1, and bill supporters believe it'll be just enough time for the bills to be approved. Bill opponents hope just the opposite — that it'll be just enough time to stop them.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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