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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Best Senator Ever Announces Plans for the Future

On January 26, the Associated Press and the office of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced his plans for the future and set forth his forward-thinking legislative agenda. One major item on his policy agenda is working to significantly increase the employment of individuals with disabilities. In his classic manner, Harkin thanked Iowans for their dedication during his nearly 40 years in public service.

Although Senator Harkin still has two years left in his term, it was a surprise to many to find out that the long-time Congressional leader would not seek a sixth term in the United States Senate.

NCIL has had a long and productive relationship with Senator Harkin. The NCIL Board, staff, and membership will dearly miss his leadership in the Senate, but we also know that Senator Harkin is a life-long ally who will never abandon his commitment to Independent Living and disability rights both nationally and abroad.

Kelly Buckland, Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living, thanked Senator Harkin for his decades of leadership.

“Senator Harkin has been a dear friend to our Movement and his contributions to our fight for civil rights will never be forgotten. His legacy as a Senator will live on in the advocacy taking place in every Center for Independent Living, in every accessible school room, and in the home of every person who escaped a nursing home. He is our Senator and we will honor his work by fighting every day to win full equality for Americans with disabilities.” 

Senator Harkin has without fail attended every NCIL Annual Conference in recent memory. He consistently attends our Rally on Capitol Hill to fire up advocates before they meet with their legislators and joins our annual Awards Luncheon to tell the story of his brother’s life and present the Frank Harkin Memorial Award to deserving advocates.

Harkin understood, and he made sure that the NCIL membership understood, that making our individual and collective voices heard in the Capitol is imperative to the legislative process.

Senator Harkin was first elected to Congress in 1974. He served in the House of Representatives for 10 years before challenging an incumbent Senator and in 1984 won the Iowa Democratic Senate seat. He went on to hold that seat through four more consecutive elections. In 2008, he made history by becoming the first Iowa Democrat to serve five terms in the Senate.

Early in his career, Senator Harkin was asked by the late Senator Ted Kennedy to write legislation that would protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. Senator Harkin was already familiar with some of the challenges people with disabilities face because of his brother Frank, who was deaf. Harkin is known to recount the story of his brother’s life, often signing the words himself, as the inspiration for his dedication to disability rights.

In 1990, after many years of hard work, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Senator Harkin continued to defend and support Congress’ original intent for the ADA through the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, which clarified that the ADA was meant to be interpreted broadly.

Senator Harkin serves on four Senate Committees and multiple Subcommittees. In 2009, when Senator Ted Kennedy passed away, he became the Chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. In his work on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Appropriations Committees, he has supported evidence-based research, dialogued with constituents, and provided the country with effective and equitable legislation.

NCIL staff will continue to work closely with Senator Harkin and his office. We enthusiastically anticipate his attendance at NCIL’s 2013 Congressional Briefing & Reception on February 27, 2013. Stay tuned over the next few years for updates on the barrage of celebrations planned for his departure.


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