Senate Passes Legislation Promoting the Safety, Health and Wellness of Children and Persons with Disabilities

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate today passed An Act to protect persons with intellectual or developmental disability from abuse, also known as “Nicky’s Law,” and An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness.

“As lawmakers, our number one job is to protect the most vulnerable among us and these pieces of legislation do just that,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am proud to see such overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate for these bills and look forward to seeing them reach the governor’s desk.”

Under Nicky’s Law, the Disabled Persons Protections Commission (DPPC) would establish a registry that identifies individuals who have abused people with disabilities. The registry, which mirrors an existing registry for childcare employees, would include former employees who have been terminated or separated from employment as a result of abuse. The legislation requires providers to review the registry and prohibits the hiring of anyone who is on the registry. More than 20 states have enacted and established similar registries.

“Enacting this registry will help disrupt a cycle of abuse of individuals with disabilities, and put in place common-sense protections that families in the Commonwealth deserve,” said Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury), who filed the legislation. “There are clear benefits to screening prospective employees who intend to work within the licensed caretaker field and I am hopeful that the bill will advance to the Governor’s desk to help protect our most vulnerable residents like Nicky.”

“Treating people with the dignity they deserve is among our core values as a Commonwealth, and it is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. This bill is thanks to the work of so many families, advocates, and stakeholders that have pushed the bill for years and came to the table this session to refine it even further. I’m so proud to see the Senate unanimously pass Nicky’s Law today.”

The Senate also unanimously passed An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness. This comprehensive bill, amended following robust debate, addresses issues related to health care access for children who have aged out of the foster care system by automatically enrolling them in MassHealth. The bill also address issues effecting the Department of Children and Families (DCF) by establishing a new data working group to help streamline the agency’s reporting process. The bill calls for an examination of the barriers to mental and behavioral health supports for children; establishes a commission to study mandated reporting laws and calls for increased education around child sex abuse and exploitation.

“The wellbeing of children has been a longtime priority of mine, and I am thrilled that our chamber has passed this comprehensive piece of legislation today,” said Assistant Majority Leader Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett). “There are many critical components of this bill, but I would especially like to highlight the provision that authorizes MassHealth to provide benefits to youth who have aged out of the state foster care system, a policy change long championed by Senate President Karen Spilka. By ensuring continuous healthcare coverage until age 26 for these young people, we guarantee they have the same access to basic healthcare that their peers are afforded. Furthermore, with this step, we are giving more at-risk youth across the Commonwealth a better chance to lead a healthy and successful life. I am confident that legislation will go a long way towards helping thousands of children access the healthcare coverage they deserve.”

“This legislation will improve the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth,” said Assistant Majority Leader Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “I am particularly pleased that the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force can continue its important work and that my amendment creating a Special Commission to modernize mandated reporting laws related to suspected child abuse and neglect was unanimously adopted. I am deeply grateful to President Spilka and Chair Rodrigues for their dedication to improving our child-serving systems.”

The legislation also includes language directing insurance provider directories, which include a list of participating health professionals and their services, to have the most up-to-date and consumer-friendly information available to avoid so-called ‘ghost networks’. The bill also calls for the formation of a task force to study and recommend further improvements to provider directories — particularly information about behavioral health providers.

“Protecting the health and welfare of children requires constant attention and today the State Senate turned its focus to several priority issues to promote their wellbeing said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “The final version of the bill adopted today includes components, such as eliminating ‘ghost networks,’ planning for better systems to provide access to mental health services, and providing students with information to protect themselves from abuse and exploitation that will make a difference for kids in Massachusetts.”

Both pieces of legislation now move to the House for further consideration.