My Floor Remarks Regarding Nicky's Law
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
January 15, 2020
H.4296, An Act to protect persons with intellectual or developmental disability from abuse
Otherwise known as Nicky's Law
Sponsor: Senator Michael Moore, Representative Linda Dean Campbell
Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities
Thank you Mr. Speaker and through you to the members. I am here before you today as House Chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities to rise in support of Nicky’s Law, H.4296, An Act to protect persons with intellectual or developmental disability from abuse.
This is an important moment for the Commonwealth as Nicky’s Law will ensure that individuals, through the establishment and maintenance of a registry, who have substantiated charges of abuse, are not hired again for programs funded or operated by the Department of Developmental Services unless, after five years, they show the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) that they are no longer a risk.
The proposed registry of care providers against whom DPPC has made a substantiated finding of registrable abuse would allow our families with loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, to sleep at night without fearing that their family member may be abused, maltreated, medically ignored or die due to burns inflicted by a care provider. This is what my committee, the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, and attendees heard from testimony on Nicky’s Law last session and again this session.
Dedicated families who bravely shared their loved one’s horrific abuse stories, led by Cheryl Chan, Nicky’s mom, will now be assured, by the bill’s passage, that the person who committed substantiated abuse for example, in a Western Massachusetts facility, would not simply find a new job at a similar setting in Boston and repeat the harmful behavior with their son or daughter, who many not be able to communicate due to their disability. This is a bill about basic safety and protection.
Twenty-six states manage an abuse registry. It is time for Massachusetts to be the 27th and provide needed protection.
Abuse is a serious charge which may be reported to the District Attorney. For this reason, Representative Campbell, the House sponsor, Senator Moore, the Senate sponsor, and I convened a working group at the end of last session to develop stronger due process protection language for the accused. This was done in partnership with The Arc, the Disability Law Center, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and DPPC. The bill before you reflects this fine concerted effort.
Nicky’s Law requires DPPC to utilize a “preponderance of the evidence standard” when reviewing a report, meaning that it is more likely than not that the stated facts are true. Before any person’s name is placed on the registry, that individual receives notice and can challenge the finding of substantiated abuse to DPPC. If DPPC maintains the finding after a review process, that individual will have the opportunity for a Fair Hearing through DALA, the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. Only if the finding is upheld will the person’s name be added to the registry.
DPPC’s mandate is to respond to abuse of persons with disabilities. Its staff is trained to investigate reports as well as assist the affected individuals. The criminal justice system alone is not adequate. Care providers who take advantage of their position to abuse people in their care often face no or little consequences for their behavior because many victims cannot testify in court or tell their family of the abuse due to their disability.
In fiscal year 2019, there were over 20,000 calls to the DPPC hotline of which 13,090 were reports of sexual, serious emotional and/or physical abuse. There has been a 10% increase in such calls since July 2019. In FY19, 2,214 abuse cases were referred to District Attorneys for possible criminal investigation, but, for the majority, no criminal charges were filed. This affirms the need for an effective registry with due process safeguards which this bill provides. Persons with disabilities deserve an effective response to minimize their trauma and have the opportunity to live free from abuse and neglect.
In closing I want to thank Speaker DeLeo, the Gentleman from Boston, the Gentlewoman from Methuen and all their terrific staff, other legislators who took a particular interest in this legislation, my staff, DPPC, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, The Arc, the Disability Law Center and most especially Cheryl Chan, Nicky’s mom, and all the families who champion their loved ones day in and day. They made Nicky’s Law a priority in order to protect and enhance the quality of life for all persons with disabilities.
I hope that you all will join me in voting in favor of this critical legislation.
I ask that when a vote is taken it be taken by a call of the yeas and nays.
Soon after, Nicky's Law passed unanimously with a vote of 154 - 0.