Hard Work Pays Off
If anyone spots The Arc's Leo Sarkissian or Barbara L'Italien today channeling Frank Sinatra singing: "It Was A Very Good Year", it is perfectly understandable. Through sheer will, a determination to never give up and a skilled effort to listen to others and negotiate in good faith, the 2014 Legislative Session will go down in history as one of the most successful for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
Major wins Include:
Real Lives Bill Empowers Individuals & Personal Empowerment
The Arc of Massachusetts, led by Executive Director Leo Sarkissian, was successful in securing the enactment of a bill, long sought by self advocates, and families embracing the concept of self-determination and self direction.
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 original legislative leader on the Real Lives bill is Rep. Tom Sannicandro.
The amended bill, S2331, was negotiated over the past week with Sen. Michael Barrett who made many adjustments to the original language, and worked closely with the disability community in developing a compromise bill. Sen. Karen Spilka, The Senate President's office and the Senate Ways and Means Committee also played a significant role in the passage of this legislation.
Background Bill Ensures Best Qualified Workforce
The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, working closely with ADDP's General Counsel Tara Hopper Zeltner, and The Arc's Governmental Affairs Director Barbara L'Italien worked diligently with the Judiciary Committee to pass former Rep. (now Boston Mayor) Marty Walsh's final legislative bill.
The National Criminal Background bill requires that anyone who has the potential for unsupervised contact with a client of DDS, including but not limited to all current and prospective employees, interns, sub-contractors and volunteers, or any DDS contracted agency vendor program, all household members or individuals "regularly on the premises" age 15 years or older, are required to submit their fingerprints to be checked against a national criminal database.
Currently, DDS and vendor agencies are required to conduct statewide CORI checks, but no national background check is conducted, 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 similar DESE law that is currently being implemented.
Autism Omnibus Bill Will Touch Thousands of Lives
Years of work by families of individuals with autism, and the Governor's Autism Commission, led by former State Rep. Barbara L'Italien, finally resulted this year to the passage of the Autism Omnibus Bill, filed by Representative Garrett Bradley and Senator Jennifer Flanagan.
Bill highlights include:
- The definition for DDS eligibility has expanded the definition of developmental disability to people on the autism spectrum and to those with smith-magenis syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome. 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.
- 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. However, it is important to recognize that this section will not take effect immediately due to its need for federal participation in the program.
- Reestablishes the Autism Commission as a permanent and autonomous entity, staff included
- 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.
- 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