Matthews' Bill: The Struggle for Restroom Access
Ohio’s Legislative History, by Jennifer Corcoran
Let’s walk down memory lane so I can help you know the legislation that has occurred in my home state of Ohio.
It all started in 2014. I was an Intervention Specialist at the Dayton Regional STEM School. I knew it was ridiculous to change Matthew in the van in public so I went to my colleague, the government teacher, and asked her how to make a law.
As she started to explain the process, she realized we should involve the STEM school students in the effort. We practiced project-based learning so she could cover most of the content standards if we developed a curriculum around our need.
Right away, our students called legislators’ offices; met individuals and families who needed the tables, as well as various organizations supporting disability rights and political analysts; provided television, newspaper, and radio interviews; and developed a wide range of marketing materials. Within the first month, we gained a sponsor, Senator Peggy Lehner. She proposed SB 343 in May of 2014. It was late in the legislative session so we knew it wouldn’t pass, but she planned to re-propose in the next legislative session. We traveled to the Statehouse and provided testimony, but just as expected, the session ended before a vote even occurred.
As promised, in March 2015, Senator Lehner proposed the bill again, this time as SB 112. Senator Lehner gave Sponsor testimony and SB 112 took on the title of Matthew’s Bill. Five students, one of which is Matthew’s brother, Alex, began the Matthew’s Bill Internship so they could work through the process throughout the summer. They were successful in securing the opportunity to provide testimony. The students organized a successful public rally, which was attended by Senator Lehner and publicized on the news. Unfortunately, the session ended again before there was a vote. Life became busy, I moved on from the STEM School, the teacher moved to another state and progress stopped.
Fast forward to 2019. Matthew and I were running in a race to raise funds for an adaptive playground. A gentleman came over to introduce himself. He was Representative Rick Perales. I talked to him about the bills we had in the past. He assured me he would push a bill if I had one to push. I reached out to Senator Lehner who immediately set a meeting so we could brainstorm a new plan. Her analysis was that the Senate looked at the first two bills as a “student project.” We kept our bill very similar, but added a tax break for those who installed the tables. She also wanted to call it Matthew’s Law. It was proposed in December and was SB 249 https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-summary?id=GA133-SB-249.
Senator Lehner provided her Sponsor Testimony. In May 2020, Representative Rick Perales proposed the same bill in the House of Representatives, HB 601. He provided Sponsor testimony as well. To have concurrent bills was always a goal, however, with Covid shutting down the US in March, there really was no action for either bill. Further, Sen. Lehner and Rep. Perales were terming out at the end of the session. Needless to say both bills died with the end of the session.
Although Matthew's Law did not pass, a new opportunity arose. A representative from the International Code Council reached out to us. They were forming a committee to write specifications to include in the international building code.
At that point, a new journey began. . . one that has proven much more successful.
I spent the next year meeting with architects, code experts and adult changing table manufacturers as part of the special committee to write these new codes. These will be published in the 2024 International Building Code. In our state, we have petitioned our Board of Building Standards to have these codes go in to effect in January 2024.
The road we have taken has been long and winding with twists and turns. The addition to the building code is a huge success, but we still have a long way to go. We will keep advocating and never give up on our mission for inclusion.
By Jennifer Corcoran
Ohio Chapter Leader
Changing Spaces Campaign
April 5, 2023