Home > Uncategorized > Sen. Brownsberger and Rep. Fernandes once again order family rights bill sent into legislative black hole

Sen. Brownsberger and Rep. Fernandes once again order family rights bill sent into legislative black hole

More than a year after an important family rights bill (H. 1459) for persons with developmental disabilities was sent to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the committee co-chairs have decided it’s time to study the measure.

Yes, we understand that as of yesterday, three days before the Thursday drop-dead date for bills that have not been voted on in committees in the current legislative session, Senator William Brownsberger and Representative John Fernandes ordered H. 1459 sent to yet another legislative study.

Of course, we know what a study really means in Massachusetts Legislature-speak.  It’s a euphemism for a legislative graveyard, or to use another metaphor, a legislative black hole from which nothing ever emerges.  No study will ever be done on H. 1459.  It will have to be refiled as a new bill next year if it is ever to see the light of day again.

Since the bill is only technically still alive, but is in actuality dead, I think we can refer to it in the past tense.  The bill proposed that a spouse or parent be presumed in probate court to be the proper person to be a guardian of a developmentally disabled or otherwise incapacitated person unless competent evidence is introduced to the contrary.

We consider H. 1459 to have been a critically important rights measure for family members of people with disabilities — particularly developmental disabilities — who are routinely overruled in decisions about the care of their loved ones in probate court proceedings by medical and clinical “experts,” state agencies, probate court judges, and service providers.

In many of those cases, developmentally disabled people are viewed as valuable funding sources, particularly by privatized group home providers who get billions of dollars in taxpayer money to provide those people with residential services.  That is why the Department of Developmental Services, which is intent on further privatization of its services, is particularly eager to get attorneys and corporate providers appointed in probate court as guardians.  Those non-family guardians are much more likely than are family members to cooperate with DDS’s privatization agenda.

State Sen. William Brownsberger (left) and Rep. John Fernandes (center) confer during a Judiciary Committee hearing last June on H. 1459 and related bills. The Committee has subsequently taken no action on the bill.

State Sen. William Brownsberger (left) and Rep. John Fernandes (center), co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, confer with a legislative aide during a committee hearing in June 2015 on H. 1459 and related bills. It now appears they were probably discussing their legislative “black hole” strategy for many of those bills.

If Brownsberger and Fernandes and other members of the Legislature really cared about the issues that H. 1459 is concerned with, they would have acted on the bill by now.  In fact, they had 17 years to study it, including the entire year and two months that the bill sat in the Judiciary Committee in the current session with no action on it.  This bill has been repeatedly filed since 1999, and we know it has been sent to similar “studies” in past legislative sessions. But apparently, no one has learned a thing about the bill in those past studies, and we’re sure that will be the case yet again.

As we reported last month, this legislative session initially appeared to be different with regard to H. 1459.  While COFAR has long supported the measure, it garnered the support last year for the first time of other major advocacy organizations for the developmentally disabled, including the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, which is technically part of the Baker administration. The MDDC listed H. 1459 as one of its legislative priorities for 2015-2016.

The Judiciary Committee did hold a public hearing on H. 1459 last June.  COFAR, the MDDC and other organizations submitted testimony in support of the measure.  As far as we know, the bill was not controversial, and no one raised any opposition to it at the hearing.

But the months dragged on and the Judiciary Committee did nothing about the bill.  In January, State Sen. Richard Ross and Rep. David Linsky sent a letter to Brownsberger and Fernandes, urging them to finally pass the bill and saying it had their full support.  Their letter noted that in light of continuing budget cuts to service coordinators in the DDS system, “family guardians are particularly crucial in managing their child’s transition and medical decisions.”  But the letter apparently had no effect.

Ross and Linsky are the local legislators of Stan McDonald, who has been fighting unsuccessfully against DDS for years to gain guardianship of his developmentally disabled son, Andy.  It is Linsky who has repeatedly filed the guardianship bill since 1999 on behalf of McDonald and an unknown number of other people who are in similar positions.

We may never find out the real reason that the guardianship bill can never get through the legislative process. But it’s my guess that DDS, for reasons discussed above, does not like the legislation.  And experience has taught us that legislators on Beacon Hill rarely, if ever, challenge the authority of agencies like DDS or their lobbyists and corporate providers.

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  1. Ed
    March 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I just don’t get it. Why are parents and/or other family members considered primary guardians? Because their child/relative is developmentally disabled? Some judge or attorney knows the individual better than family? If I have two children, one normal, and one developmentally disabled, I’m a fit guardian for the first, but not the second? Where’s the logic?

    • Ed
      March 16, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Correction. I left out the word “not” in the second sentence of my original post. It should read:
      I just don’t get it. Why are parents and/or other family members not considered primary guardians? Because their child/relative is developmentally disabled? Some judge or attorney knows the individual better than family? If I have two children, one normal, and one developmentally disabled, I’m a fit guardian for the first, but not the second? Where’s the logic?

  2. Anonymous
    March 16, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    There is no logic to this, and that’s your first clue that something else is going on. It’s about power, control, government overreach, and $$$$.

    A ten year old could read these bills with comprehension.

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