Legislative Priorities Now

Executive Director, Leo Sarkissian, speaking during a meeting.A number of pieces of Arc priority legislation are still being considered. Since this is an election year, both the state budget and all legislation that requires a roll-call vote (which is all policy) needs to be finished by July 31st to proceed forward this year. At this point this is where we stand:

Real Lives Bill (H4151):

The Real Lives bill expands the ability of people to decide where and with whom they want to live and work by self-directing their DDS service dollars. The bill requires that the administration implement certain new policies and procedures to allow public funds to be used as flexibly as possible by the individual or family and provides for the utilization of fiscal intermediaries to assist if desired.

This bill has had many twists and turns – it was filed by Representative Tom Sannicandro as H 151; then substantially rewritten by Senator Mike Barrett (H4063) when reported out of the Committee on Children and Families; and then returned to the original version (now H4151) when reported out of the Health Care Finance Committee to House Ways and Means. The original language also was included in the House version of the budget and, if adopted into the final budget, would then be added into the DDS statute. The Arc and MA21 continue to advocate on behalf of the passage of this important legislation.

National Criminal Background Check (H4125):

The National Criminal Background bill was originally filed by former Representative and current Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. Passage of the bill would require that anyone who has potential for unsupervised contact with a client of DDS submit their fingerprints to be checked against a national criminal database. This would extend to DDS and its vendor agencies.

Currently, DDS and vendor agencies are required to conduct statewide CORI checks, but no national check, which means that an applicant’s criminal record outside of MA may not be identified.

The bill was re-written to comport with federal regulations and is patterned after a similar law passed to protect students up to age 22. The authors of the re-write included Geoff Misilo of The Arc Government Affairs Committee and Tara Hopper-Zeltner of ADDP among others. The Mass Down Syndrome Congress has led coordination of the bill and Paul Willenbrock and Barbara L’Italien of The Arc have been part of the advocacy effort. The bill is in House Ways and Means and we are hopeful for its passage this year.

House passes Omnibus Autism Bill (H4047), awaiting action in the Senate:

On April 17, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a comprehensive Autism bill – House 4047, filed by House Ways and Means. The bill was a combination of many of the pieces of legislation filed by Representative Garrett Bradley in January of 2013 as a result of the work by the Governor’s Autism Commission. The legislation would reestablish the Autism Commission as a permanent and autonomous entity, necessary since the previous commission sun-setted upon release of the report. It provides for an executive director to support autism advocacy, training and reporting.

There are two specific areas directed to study – the long-term needs for housing and employment – in addition to the areas of study and recommendations previously covered by the commission.

DDS will now be directed to include in its eligibility guidelines the federal definition of developmental disability for people on the autism spectrum and those with Prader Willi. This change will assist many whose functional needs are not reflected by their IQ score and who are now denied access to DDS.

Public school teachers will have the option to attain an “Autism Endorsement” certification – a concentration in autism coursework and training to be leaders within their school communities.

A tax-free savings account will be established – patterned after the federal ABLE ACT legislation to allow all disabled families to save in a 529-style plan for expenses including education, housing, and any other needed supports and services.

After passage in the House, the bill was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where historically there has been support for the development of autism supports. Members of The Arc, AFAM, and AANE have been meeting with key Senate decision makers on the bill during April and May (and are trying to add Mass Health coverage of autism treatments) and are working toward its passage.

An Act to increase the Commonwealth’s compliance with federal law meeting requirements of the ADA (H136):

This bill directs the Executive Office of Administration and Finance (A&F) to develop standards to identify and recruit qualified applicants with disabilities for employment and would require agencies or businesses which contract with the state to comply with those benchmarks. Results of those hiring efforts would be required to be reported annually to the legislature. The bill was filed by Representative Jim O’Day and is currently in House Ways and Means. The Arc has been working on this as part of an Easter Seals-led group of cross-disability advocacy groups to create a pipeline of new job opportunities for people with disabilities.

Additional Priorities of The Arc in House Ways and Means:

H4067- An Act for Passage to Independence

H87/S24 – An Act to Support the Transition to Adult Services for Persons with Disabilities

H4068 – An Act facilitating the development of underutilized facilities and state-owned property

H3997 – An Act for Healthy Families

H149 – An Act creating a means for tracking the unmet need of individuals with developmental disabilities

S601 – Resolve providing for investigation and study by a special commission relative to the need for accessible homes

Priority of The Arc in Senate Ways and Means:

H1366 – An Act relative to uniform guardianship and protective proceedings jurisdiction

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