A flurry of activity throughout the day resulted in resolution of many items in the Massachusetts State Legislature as the final day of formal session began on July 31. We are pleased to report three top priority bills of The Arc and one supported bill made it through the session. We owe a strong debt of gratitude to the General Court, and Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray. Barbara L’Italien, Director of Government Affairs played a key role spending many hours this week at the state house, and traveling between offices or phoning as needed.
Autism Omnibus –opens the door to many who need supports and services
Real Lives- places in statute self-determination for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and families
National Background Check-ensures a national safeguard for those hired to work directly with people served by DDS (Department of Developmental Services)
The passage of these three bills together makes this legislative period a significant landmark session for The Arc! Representatives Tom Sannicandro (Real Lives and Nat’l Background Check) and Garrett Bradley (Autism Omnibus and Real Lives) did yeoman work, monitoring or helping move two of the three bills.
The Autism Omnibus bill passed earliest, as an amended version had to travel twice through the process. Then, later in the evening, National Background check made the steps necessary for passage. Real Lives, which had been amended late in the week was caught in the traffic of bills and votes and it had not moved as of 10:30 pm. But at about 1:30 am, we heard from Rep. Sannicandro’s office that the bill had made it through. Barbara L’Italien had stayed through midnight to monitor the situation as needed on all the bills. We will reach out to the administration and the Governor’s office to advocate for his signature. Advocates have worked with the administration on all three bills so we do expect his assent. We still need to reach out to him however as well as thank the legislature for their leadership in this area.
1. Real Lives Bill (S2331, formerly H4237):
The Real Lives bill expands the ability of people to decide where and with whom they want to live and work by allowing them to self-direct their DDS (Dept. of Developmental Services) service dollars. The bill places into statute a number of person-centered policies and procedures implemented by DDS under the concept of self-determination. The individual or family can use public funds more flexibly within certain guidelines and can be assisted by facilitators and/or fiscal intermediaries to develop services. The bill, formerly H4237 and most recently S223,1 has the support of ten disability organizations. MA21, a coalition of 9 organizations, worked on the bill with Commissioner Elin Howe of DDS and original co-sponsors Rep. Tom Sannicandro and Sen. Katherine Clark. The amended bill negotiated over the past week includes Sen. Michael Barrett as a lead sponsor. The Arc worked with several people to ensure its passage including Rep. Sannicandro, Senator Barrett, MA21 colleagues (including State House visits by our friends at MASS), Sen. Karen Spilka and Rep. Bradley who assisted during the House session. The Senate President’s office and Senate Ways and Means Committee also played a significant role in crafting the final version of the bill.
Thank you to the organizations that worked on this bill for several years and a few recently -Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change, Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong, Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, Disability Law Center, The Federation for Children with Special Needs, The Massachusetts Sibling Support Network and Jewish Community Relations Council. (Please see below for those very involved in bill drafting or advocating who weren’t mentioned elsewhere.)
2. Omnibus Autism Bill (H4047):
The Omnibus Autism Bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate but the branches’ versions differed so the bill returned to both branches in compromise form. The joint effort of The Arc and AFAM with the leadership of Barbara L’Italien, Dir. of Government Affairs was essential to passage of this bill. Barbara took the lead on the efforts with a strong team including Amy Weinstock (Autism Insurance Resource1 Center), Julia Landua (MAC), Ann Guay and others. Other organizations in AFAM, chapters of The Arc, AANE and other groups showed their support. The bill was a combination of the pieces of legislation filed by Representative Garrett Bradley and Senator Jennifer Flanagan in January of 2013 as a result of the work by the Governor’s Autism Commission. The legislation:
- Reestablishes the Autism Commission as a permanent and autonomous entity, staff included
- 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 is a significant change as it will assist many whose functional needs are not reflected by their IQ score and who are now denied access to DDS services.
- Health insurance coverage for medically necessary treatments to Mass Health recipients for ABA behavior therapy and both dedicated and non-dedicated augmentative communication devices will now be funded for those through age 21 years.
- Public school special education 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. This section will not take effect immediately due to the need for federal participation.
3. National Criminal Background Check (H4327):
The National Criminal Background bill was originally filed by former Representative and current Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. This 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. The bill 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 now comports with federal regulations and is patterned after a similar law passed to protect students up to age 22. The disability bill would use the same statewide infrastructure and nationally accredited vendor that is in place for the education law. Thank you to MA Down Syndrome Congress for its coordinating efforts on this bill. An active committee worked on the bill and included members from various groups – including two from The Arc, Paul Willenbrock and Geoff Misilo, and Tara Zeltner from ADDP. Senator Michael Moore initiated the discussion for adoption of the bill during the Senate session.
Also passing was a Uniform Probate bill regarding guardianship, which will allow individual guardianships to transfer across state lines (AARP Massachusetts led this effort.)
Each of the top priority bills had significant assistance in various ways from DDS and Commissioner Elin Howe. DD eligibility for autism and Prader-Willi eligibility required significant DDS staff work on the implementation of the new eligibility process and related delivery of services. Commissioner Howe played a key role the original Real Lives bill. She and her staff also spent significant time in meetings regarding the criminal background check bill as well as researching best ways for implementation. Some of this legislation wouldn’t have happened without her efforts, while other pieces may have taken much longer. Again, we wish to reiterate the active support of Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray on all three bills.
Real Lives, thank you to:
Lou Nisenbaum (in memoriam)