California Seeks to Excise the “R-Word” — Sort Of

“Mentally retarded’ is supposed to be eliminated from all California laws and replaced with “intellectual disability” under a measure unanimously passed by the Senate August 21.

That’s what supporters say the bill does.

“Our state should not use outdated terms that spread negative stereotypes,” said Sen. Tony Strickland, a Thousand Oaks Republican who shepherded the measure through the Senate.

But, because of state fiscal pressures, “mentally retarded’ will continue to appear in California’s code books, the phrase will just be “construed” to mean “intellectually disabled.”

Known as the Shriver “R-Word” Act for the family’s decades of work with the intellectually disabled — beginning with the late Eunice Shriver and the Special Olympics — the measure has not received a single “no” vote and will head to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown before the Legislature adjourns August 31.

The Democratic governor takes no official position on bills before they reach his desk but it’s unlikely he would veto this measure.

“For the 6 million to 8 million Americans with intellectual disabilities and their families, (the “R-word”) and its hurtful use is equal to the impact of the “N-word” on an African American,” then California First Lady Maria Shriver wrote in a 2008 Los Angeles Times opinion piece.

The measure – AB 2370 by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, a Costa Mesa Republican– says that “intellectually disabled” should replace mentally retarded” only “in the course of other necessary revisions or amendments” to state law.

In the meantime – again to save money – the bill says:

“As used in a state regulation, state publication, or other writing, the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded person” have the same meaning as the terms “intellectual disability” and “person with an intellectual disability,” unless the context or an explicit provision of federal or state law clearly requires a different meaning.”

In October 2010, President Obama signed S. 2781, which required the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal education, health, and labor laws.

The federal measure was tombstoned after Rosa Marcellino, who was born with Down syndrome.

California is one of 43 states that have either passed or introduced legislation to ban the “R-word.”

Mansoor’s measure is sponsored by Best Buddies California, which is run by Anthony Shriver.

Best Buddies, which holds a 100-mile charity bicycle ride from Carmel to Hearst castle on September 8, notes in its support letter that “while California is usually on the cutting edge of legislation, the majority of states have already changed their laws to eliminate the “R-word.”



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