Does anyone in the state Legislature or the Patrick administration really want to set up a national background screening process for people hired to work with the intellectually disabled in Massachusetts?
Everybody likes to talk about how important it is to protect the most vulnerable among us from abuse and neglect. Yet the Legislature has been unwilling for years to pass national background check legislation, and the administration has been unwilling even to apply for federal funds that are available under ObamaCare to implement a national background check program.
So far this year, there’s not much reason to think anything is going to change, though there is always a faint hope. This year’s version of the national background check bill (H. 4125) was approved by the Judiciary Committee in late May after the measure had languished there for nearly a year and a half. But it was sent as usual to the House Ways and Means Committee. Every time the bill has been sent to House Ways and Means, it has died there. For years, the bill has been on an endless shuffle between these two committees.
Another piece of bad news for the legislation this year is that the only elected official in Massachusetts who has ever made a recognizable and visible effort to promote it is Martin Walsh, who is now mayor of Boston and no longer in the House of Representatives. For years, as a state representative, Walsh filed legislation to enact national background checks for Department of Developmental Services employees and employees of DDS corporate providers; and as recently as last July, Walsh testified in favor of his bill before the Judiciary Committee.
COFAR and a wide range of other advocacy groups for the developmentally disabled have long urged passage of the legislation. But other than Marty Walsh, we see no elected officials who seem particularly interested in enacting this legislation. You have to wonder why. Is there a special interest group out there that we’ve never heard of that is working to keep this legislation bottled up?
The administration claims to be in support of the bill, but they have not testified in favor of it in recent years, and, as noted, have never applied for available federal funding to implement a national background check program in Massachusetts. That funding, as noted, has been available under the Affordable Care Act since 2010. In that time, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has awarded more than $50 million to 24 states to design national background check programs.
National background checks involve matching a job applicant’s fingerprints against a federal database maintained by the FBI. Every advocacy group for the disabled that we know of agrees that state-only background checks — which is what DDS currently does in Massachusetts — are not sufficient in screening applicants for direct-care jobs because those checks do not turn up convictions for criminal activity in other states.
Massachusetts has apparently not been a leader in background screening of people who work with other vulnerable groups either. In January 2013, Massachusetts did enact a law requiring national background checks for school teachers and early education employees, but it was the last state in the nation to do so.
By the way, where are the candidates for governor and attorney general on this matter?
Please call the House Ways and Means Committee and ask them to finally approve H. 4125 and get it enacted; and please call the governor’s office and ask them to apply for funding available to implement the program.
You can reach the Ways and Means Committee at (617) 722-2990, and the governor’s office at (617) 725-4005.