There are several pieces of legislation I supported and co-sponsored, which have been signed into law by the Governor and will assist the disabled community and their families in Massachusetts. These measures will expand employment opportunities, health care coverage and ensure these residents are being cared for in a safe environment. As a State Senator, I have a responsibility to advocate for those that need assistance the most. These programs and policies are important to me because advocates in the disabled community have initiated these measures which provide choices, whether through financial options or support services for families.
I supported and sponsored language in the fiscal year 2015 budget that preserves the choice for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities between in-facility employment opportunities through sheltered workshops or community-based employment. These programs are vital to individuals with developmental disabilities because they offer opportunities to function as productive members of a community. The Department of Developmental Services has revised its policy and has initiated an effort to close workshops and transition to day care or community employment as the only options for those that have a disability.
This change stems from litigation happening in other states in which sheltered workshops have been accused of promoting segregation and inadequate pay to disabled people.
I have heard from many constituents concerned by these closures. They are afraid that this is not a good fit for their loved ones. Sheltered workshops, in their experience, provide a community environment for their loved ones as well as the dignity and confidence-building that comes with earning a paycheck. I recently toured Opportunity Works in Newburyport to see first hand the many activities under way that these families are enthusiastic about. And, with the help of Representative Brian Dempsey, legislative language was approved in the House to maintain access to these programs. I greatly appreciated the leadership in the Senate which will allow for people to utilize sheltered workshops. Without that legislative change, all sheltered workshops would be required to close, which would limit employment options to day care or community-based employment.
I co-sponsored this legislation that requires the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to offer self-determination as an option to all individuals who are eligible for services through DDS. This is a voluntary program that gives families with members who are developmentally disabled more control over the way services are delivered to that individual as well as more control over where they live and work. Participants can terminate self-determination and return to traditional services provided through DDS at any time. This bill establishes a self-determination advisory board to advise DDS on its efforts to implement, publicize, evaluate, improve and develop information about self-determination. John Anton of Haverhill was one of the first people to contact me when I got into office and asked that I co-sponsor this bill.
The legislation further requires DDS to facilitate and assist in the preparation of a person-centered plan, as well as an individual support plan and individual budget for each participant. This allows every participant the ability to control their services and ensure that the dollar value of a participant’s individual budget is equivalent to the amount DDS would have spent providing services. The Department would also be required to maximize federal financial participation.
This session the Legislature passed measures that created a 35-member commission on autism within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The commission will make recommendations on how to improve services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and monitor the implementation of policies impacting these individuals. It requires MassHealth to cover medically necessary treatments for individuals who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, including services for applied behavior analysis. The bill also requires programs that provide residential or day care services and treatment for persons with a developmental disability to obtain a license from the Department of Developmental Services and requires administrators and teachers to have training in strategies for effective inclusive schooling for children with autism.
National Background Checks
This bill requires all employees, volunteers, and contracted vendors who work directly with clients of the Department of Developmental Services to undergo fingerprint background checks done for state and federal criminal history records. This bill also increases the protections the state has in place for this vulnerable population.
These accomplishments are important but I know there is more work to be done.