COLUMBUS — The state General Assembly now has a caucus to focus on issues affecting Ohioans with developmental disabilities.

Senators Andrew Brenner, a Powell Republican, and Nickie Antonio, a Democrat from Lakewood in Cuyahoga County, this week announced the creation of the state's first Developmental Disabilities Caucus. The two will lead a group of legislators who meet regularly to discuss current and future needs in the disabilities system, which provides support services for about 100,000 Ohioans.

The caucus also will work with various advocacy groups — Down syndrome, autism and others — within the disabilities community.

"We're not a hard sell; everybody wants to support us," said Gary Tonks, executive director of the Arc of Ohio. "But there's not a lot of understanding about how we're funded, how things work. It's a complex system."

The Arc is the state's oldest and largest advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Tonks said the organization is happy to finally have a dedicated group in the legislature that can help other lawmakers sort through policies and problems, and explain how the state and county-based disabilities systems — along with private nonprofit groups and companies — deliver services with a mix of county, state and federal money.

"The No. 1 goal right now is to address the workforce crisis," Tonks said, referring to a severe worker shortage that has made it difficult for people to get the support and care they need.

Employment opportunities, programs for babies and children with developmental delays, in-home nursing care and coordinating assistance for young people who have both disabilities and mental-health problems are other likely priorities.

The new caucus is to meet for the first time this month. Other members haven't been determined, but Brenner said several of his colleagues have said they'd like to join.

"The idea is to meet quarterly or so, and to bring in the disability community to discuss their issues," he said Wednesday. "We might visit facilities and other locations, too."

Legislative caucuses have long been formed in both state and federal legislatures. They generally meet to pursue objectives for particular groups, such as veterans or minorities. At least a few other states have or have had a disabilities caucus, Tonks said.

"We've always had champions in the legislature, but it's been one or two, here and there," Tonks said. And too often, he said, that support and knowledge is lost to term limits.

Antonio, a former special education teacher, said in a news release that she's happy to join the new caucus.

"People who make up the disability community are an important part of the fabric of our society," she said, "and we as legislators should do everything we can to work together for shared goals."