BOSTON, Aug. 14, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has signed into law a bill that promises to close a loophole and protect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout the Commonwealth from out-of-state criminals.
"This bill will have a profound effect on protecting our loved ones with Down syndrome for many years to come," said MDSC Executive Director Maureen Gallagher. "The MDSC, along with other advocacy organizations, has been fighting for the passage of this critical piece of legislation for many years." The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress led a cross-disability coalition to rework the bill and lobby legislators for its passage.
For Paul Willenbrock, the father of an adult daughter with a developmental disability, the bill's passage into law will have a profound impact on his family. "With the Governor's signature, adults with developmental disabilities and their parents, guardians or loved ones will be able to sleep more comfortably, with a smile on their faces, knowing that important, vulnerable adults are safer from abuse," said Willenbrock, who also serves on the Arc of Massachusetts' government affairs committee.
Until now, individuals who apply for employment in Massachusetts to work with persons served by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDS) have undergone a CORI check, but not a national check. But the CORI database is limited to a person's criminal history within Massachusetts, and there has been no statutory or regulatory requirement that DDS or any of its vendor agencies conduct any systematic national criminal background checks of potential employees. As a result, employees with an abusive and violent criminal history documented beyond the border of Massachusetts have been able to slip through the cracks and work in caretaker positions with some of our state's most vulnerable residents.
Gallagher credited the tireless efforts of everyone involved for the bill now heading to the Governor's desk for signature, where it is expected to be signed in the coming days. The bill had broad support from advocacy groups, government agencies, legislative champions, the Down syndrome community and the larger community of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their loved ones.
The Governor also passed two other major pieces of disability legislation: the Real Lives bill, which will give those with disabilities greater control over the state-funded supports and services they receive, and the Autism Omnibus, which is critical to many of our families and friends. A public signing ceremony for all three bills is being arranged.
The National Background Check Bill was modeled after a similar piece of legislation, the "Education Background Check Bill', which was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in January 2013. It requires all school districts to conduct fingerprint-supported national criminal history background checks on all teachers, school employees and early education providers in Massachusetts. Implementation of the 'education background check bill' is underway.
Many to Thank
The MDSC thanks our staunch supporters and members, who through their ongoing support helped achieve this important milestone. Special thanks goes Governor Patrick, leaders in the Massachusetts Legislature, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, House Ways & Means Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Senator Stephen Brewer and Vice Chair Senator Jennifer Flanagan; Real Lives Bill sponsor Rep. Tom Sannicando, Judiciary Chairman Senator Will Brownsberger, House Vice Chair Rep. Christopher Markey, Sen. Michael Moore and Rep. David Vieira. We also want to thank EOHHS Assistant Secretary Rosalie Edes, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe, DDS Deputy Assistant Victor Hernandez, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (who sponsored the NBC bill as a representative).
This bill would not have become law without the broad support of an amazing coalition of private non-profits and public agencies, including the Arc of Massachusetts, Mass Advocates Standing Strong (MASS), Disability Law Center (DLC), Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPSS), Executive Office of Health & Human Services (EOHHS), Disabled Persons Protection Committee (DPPC), Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC) and the Massachusetts State Police Commissioned Officers Association. Special thanks to the individual leaders in the MDSC-led coalition who worked with us over the 2-year legislative session to recraft the bill. This includes Kristin Britton, Geoff Misilo, Tara Zeltner, Paul Willenbrock, Leo Sarkissian, Barbara L'Italian, Eric Nordahl, Faith Behum, and Nancy Alterio. We also had the support of 64 legislative co-sponsors.
We also want to thank many within our MDSC family, including Government Affairs consultant Jane Lane, MDSC member David Falcone, our MDSC Legislative Advocacy Task Force members (Rosemary Alfredo, John Anton, Colleen Endres, Peter Gramenelles, Fran Hogan, Shey Jaboin, Kathy Kaczynski, Ann Kelly, Josh Komyerov, Jane Lane, Kim Legendre, Arthur McLaughlin, Julie Messina, Laura Noble, Peg Ricardo, Michele Sanphy and Jacquie Sherman), our Honorary Board, our Board of Directors and our Management Team.
About the MDSC
As we have over the past three decades, the MDSC continues to ensure that all individuals in Massachusetts with Down syndrome are valued, included, and given every opportunity to pursue fulfilling lives. In the early years, parents met in a living room to share information about their children, provide support for each other and strategize how to educate their families, schools and communities. More than 28 years later, the MDSC has over 3,000 members, an energetic Board of Directors, a dynamic management team, and a vision to ensure that every person with Down syndrome has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Today, the MDSC is on the cutting edge of Down syndrome advocacy at a time when an innovative, forward-thinking vision is needed.
The MDSC offers a broad array of programs to serve people with Down syndrome and their families throughout the state, including: our signature Parent's First Call Program, a volunteer, state-wide group of trained parent mentors available 24/7 that is a national model; two major annual conferences that draw national and international experts in their fields; a Buddy Walk® Program that gives individuals, schools, community groups, and local businesses an opportunity to get involved in fundraising campaigns and events year-round; and Self-Advocate Programs like Advocates in Motion and our Self-Advocate Advisory Council, which provide opportunities for teens and adults with Down syndrome while making empowerment a central component.
A photo accompanying this release is available at: