Home > Uncategorized > ‘Real Lives’ bill proponents are abandoning the democratic process

‘Real Lives’ bill proponents are abandoning the democratic process

It appears the supporters of the flawed ‘Real Lives’ bill are trying an end-run around the normal democratic process for getting bills enacted in the state Legislature.

Their latest strategy has been to insert the language of the proposed legislation into the state budget bill for the coming fiscal year via an amendment process that does not require any recorded votes or public hearings.  The fate of the proposed legislation therefore will now be decided as part of the closed-door horse-trading that is going on among the six members of a House-Senate conference committee on the budget.

I’ve written before about our concerns with the Real Lives bill, which is intended to give clients of the Department of Developmental Services more choice in the services they receive.   While we support the overall concept of the bill, our concerns about it center around provisions that we believe are primarily intended to benefit corporate providers to DDS.   As we see it, one of those provisions will essentially compensate providers for not providing services.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Representative Tom Sannicandro, has tried without success in recent years to get the bill enacted through the normal legislative process.  That process of course involves first referring the measure to the appropriate legislative committee (or committees).

The appropriate committee — in this case, the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee — would then schedule the bill for a public hearing and vote the measure up or down.  If approved by the committee, the measure would ultimately be voted up or down by the full membership of the House and Senate, whose votes on the measure would be recorded.

Last year, the Real Lives bill was passed by the House, but the Senate declined to take it up, so it died at the end of that session as a result.  We first expressed our concerns about the provider-friendly provisions of the bill to Sannicandro during the debate on it last year.

Unfortunately, when Sannicandro re-introduced the bill (now H. 151) at the start of the current legislative session in January, he made no changes to it, despite our concerns.  The corporate-friendly provisions were all still there.

The bill was duly referred on January 22 to the Children and Families Committee.  To date, the committee has not scheduled the bill for a public hearing.  I called the committee this week to ask why no public hearing had yet been scheduled and was told it was because Sannicandro had asked that a hearing on the bill not be scheduled because the language in the bill was being proposed as a budget amendment.

Sannicandro’s budget amendment was in fact adopted by the House during its budget deliberations in April, meaning the House leadership agreed to put the amendment in the “yes pile” of amendments approved as a bloc by an unrecorded voice vote on the House floor.   However, an identical amendment was subsequently placed by Senate leaders in the “no pile,” meaning it got rejected in that chamber by a similar unrecorded voice vote.  As a result, it’s now up to the conference committee to decide whether the Real Lives bill lives or dies.

We don’t think the “yes pile” and “no pile” process used in the House and the Senate for deciding budget amendments is a particularly good or democratic one.  We understand the rationale for it is that it saves a lot of time taken up by debate on budgetary issues — something we understand used to occur in the distant past in the Massachusetts Legislature.

But while there may be a valid rationale for taking up budget-related amendments in blocs that are not subject to debate or recorded votes, we don’t think that rationale applies to something like the Real Lives bill.  The Real Lives bill is intended to make far-reaching changes in the way services are delivered to people with developmental disabilities.  It appears to be only marginally a budgetary measure, and that’s only because of the special fund it sets up to compensate providers for not providing services.

For that reason, we wrote to Sannicandro yesterday, urging him to prevail on the conference committee not to adopt his bill, but to let the measure take the normal, democratic course in the Children and Families Committee.  We think that’s the right way to go on this important issue.

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