M&L starts the discussion by providing a brief background of S2245 for readers who may be out of state, or have yet to hear of this bill. According to M&L staff, a version of this bill, H4047, was first introduced in the House on April 15th of 2014. It was then passed unanimously on the 16th of the same month. The version passed on July 8th is slightly different from the original version, so it is important to note that these two versions need to be reconciled, and signed by the governor into law.
What does this bill mean for individuals with disabilities in MA?
As M&L writes, this legislation was the result of a concentrated effort on the part of various special needs organizations and advocates in Massachusetts. This bill, which represents a “huge step forward in the realm of disability rights”, addresses many issues that individuals with disabilities face as they attempt to save for the future, access important services, advocate for respect and dignity, and pave the way for better futures for themselves and those to follow in the next generation. Specifically, some of the more important aspects of the bill address financial planning, government benefit programs, special education, and legislation regarding the protection of individuals with disabilities while receiving government services, among many other issues. Some of the more important highlights include:
- Making the Special Commission Relative to Autism (more commonly known as The Autism Commission) a permanent oversight body. Note: The Autism Commission was established by Legislative Resolve and approved by Governor Patrick on April 22, 2010. It was charged to make an investigation and study relative to individuals with autistic spectrum disorders, which shall include, but not be limited to Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism and pervasive development disorder and to investigate and study the range of services and supports necessary for individuals to achieve their full potential across their lifespan. The Commission consists of 31 members appointed by the Governor. For more information, please visit their website – www.mass.gov/
- Creating special savings and expense accounts to receive tax benefits for expenditures that benefit an individual with a disability
- Expanding the mission of DDS (Developmental Disability Services) to include adults with developmental disabilities
- Encouraging cooperation between DDS and DMH (Department of Mental Health) to provide mental health services to those with developmental disabilities
- Creating an endorsement in autism to certify teachers who are qualified to assist students with autism
- Extending insurance coverage for autism services to MassHealth (Medicaid)
- Requiring the Autism Commission to report on employment and housing opportunities for people with autism in the Commonwealth
Would You Like More Information?
M&L directs those interested in learning more to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website to access the full text of the bill. They also note that readers can contact any of the organizations in the state that played a vital role in the passing of the legislation for more information. Some of these organizations include: The AANE (Asperger’s Association of New England) Advocacy Committee, the Arc of Massachusetts, and the Disability Law Center just to name a few.
M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC (http://www.specialneedsplanning.net/
Maedi Tanham Carney
Maedi Tanham Carney