HELENA -- Griffin Dalrymple is 6 years old, and will turn 7 on Valentine’s Day. At one point in his life, Griffin was gravely ill. Had his condition progressed further, his mother said he would have needed an organ transplant.

Under state law, that transplant could have been denied because Griffin has Down syndrome. Jayci Dalrymple is Griffin’s mom, and told his story to a Montana Senate committee  during a hearing on February 1.

“My son Griffin is perfectly healthy, no major health concerns,” Jayci said. “But if he needed an organ transplant tomorrow … he would be denied that right because he has Down syndrome.”

While that discrimination is illegal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the act has no specific enforcement measures.

In a 2019 report, the National Council on Disability found that section of the ADA usually isn’t enforced due to the time-sensitive nature of transplants. People waiting for new organs may not have the time to go through normal court proceedings. 

On Monday, the state Senate gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 155, which would allow courts to force health care providers, facilities and insurance companies to approve and perform life-saving transplants for disabled Montanans.

It copies the language of the ADA and adds a line that says a person can file a lawsuit on an expedited track. 

Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, who is the bill’s primary sponsor, said his bill is “the feel good bill of the session” during his comments on the Senate floor Monday. 

It does not close off other options for families who feel they’ve been discriminated against.

In addition to Griffin’s family, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee hearing drew support from the Montana Academy of Physician Assistants and Disability Rights Montana. 

The bill passed unanimously out of committee and went to the full Senate, where it passed with 49 votes on second reading. One senator was not present. It faces one more vote in the Senate before moving to the House for a committee hearing and two more votes. If it passes the House, it will move to the governor’s desk for his signature.  

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.