Home > Uncategorized > It’s time to stop playing budget games with the ‘Real Lives’ bill

It’s time to stop playing budget games with the ‘Real Lives’ bill

Once again, proponents of the ‘Real Lives’ bill have attempted an end-run around the normal legislative process by inserting the measure into the state budget bill in the House.

As we’ve pointed out many times, while the Real Lives bill is intended to provide intellectually disabled persons with choice and “self-determination” in obtaining services from the Department of Developmental Services, it has been drafted with a number of provisions that have turned it into a vehicle to benefit DDS corporate providers.

Using the same tactic he employed last year, Rep. Tom Sannicandro, the perennial sponsor of the proposed legislation, inserted the measure into the Fiscal Year 2015 budget bill, which was debated last week in the House.   Only this time, Sannicandro and the providers appear to have ignored a thoughtful re-draft of the bill by state Senator Michael Barrett that is reportedly due to be approved by the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee any day now.  In his redraft, Barrett, who is Senate chair of the Children and Families Committee, removed the overtly provider-friendly provisions from Sannicandro’s version.

Sannicandro seems to be continuing to file his version of the bill at the behest of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) and the Arc of Massachusetts, which don’t appear to like Barrett’s redraft.  That appears to be because Barrett’s redraft includes a provision intended to prevent those organizations from benefiting financially from the legislation.

We’ve blogged many times about what we see as serious conflicts of interest posed by Sannicandro’s version of the bill, including the fact that it would put the Arc and ADDP on an advisory board created to help DDS develop the self-determination program, and would establish a “contingency fund” that would compensate providers financially when residential clients leave them for other providers (effectively paying them for not providing services). Barrett’s redraft not only removes the contingency fund as well as all references to the Arc and the ADDP from the bill, it states that more than 50 percent of the advisory board must be made up of individuals who are financially independent of any DDS provider.

Yet, the vote in favor of Sannicandro’s amendment in the House last Wednesday was unanimous.  We can only hope that most of the 150 House members who voted for Sannicandro’s budget amendment were not aware of Sen. Barrett’s redraft.  But certainly Sannicandro has known about Barrett’s redrafted version.  After all, he was invited by Barrett’s staff earlier this year — just as we, the Arc and ADDP were — to comment on the redraft.

I talked on Tuesday to a member of Sannicandro’s legislative staff, who said he didn’t know what Sannicandro’s position is on Barrett’s redraft.  The staff member, however, did maintain that passage of Sannicandro’s version of the bill as part of the budget would not necessarily “cut off” passage of Barrett’s version of the bill.  But I didn’t receive a clear answer from the staff member as to why Sannicandro would file his version of the bill as a budget amendment if he is not opposed to Barrett’s version.

We hope Sannicandro’s version of the bill will not appear in the Senate budget as it did in the House. We don’t think any version of this complex bill should be decided as part of the budget debate.  A staff member in Barrett’s office said this week that the Senate leadership is aware “we’ve (Barrett and his staff) worked hard on our redraft.”  The staff member said they were not aware of anyone planning to file an amendment to the Senate budget similar to Sannicandro’s.

We have a number of concerns even with Barrett’s version of the Real Lives bill.  But it’s a lot better than Sannicandro’s version, and it is, moreover, moving through the appropriate legislative process.


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