BOSTON (AP) — A bill that would create a state registry that identifies individuals who have been credibly accused of abusing people with intellectual or developmental disabilities was unanimously approved by the Massachusetts House.
The bill would require the state's Disabled Persons Protections Commission (DPPC) to establish the registry, which is intended to prevent providers who work with people with developmental disabilities and who have been credibly accused of abuse from being able to move from job to job.
The DPPC would have to use a “preponderance of evidence" standard when reviewing a report that a provider had engaged in abuse —- meaning that it is more likely than not that the stated facts are true.
The legislation will now head back to the state Senate, which unanimously approved a similar bill in October. The senate will have to vote again on the updated bill. After that, it will head to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has not said whether he will sign the bill. A message was left Wednesday with Baker's office.
Before a provider's name is placed on the registry, the individual would be notified and allowed to challenge the finding, according to Democratic state Rep. Kay Khan. Only if the finding is upheld would the person's name be added to the registry.
Khan said the registry is needed because the state's criminal justice system doesn't provide enough protection.
“Care providers who take advantage of their position to abuse people in their care often face little or no consequences for their behavior because many victims, as we know, cannot testify in court or tell their family of the abuse due to their disability," Khan said during Wednesday's debate.
In the 2019 fiscal year, there were more than 20,000 calls to DPPC's hotline of which 13,000 were reports of sexual, serious emotional or physical abuse, she said. More than 2,200 abuse cases were referred to local district attorneys for possible criminal investigation. In the majority of cases, Khan said no charges were filed.
The registry would mirror an existing registry for childcare employees and would include former employees who have been fired or let go from their jobs as a result of abuse.
The bill would also bar providers from hiring caretakers whose names appear in the confidential registry.
More than 20 states have enacted and established similar registries.
The bill is dubbed “Nicky’s Law" after Nicky Chan, who was beaten at a program for people with intellectual disabilities several years ago. His mother and other parents have pushed for the registry.
The Arc of Massachusetts, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, said the registry is needed to prevent a revolving door of abuse in the state.
"The reality that someone can be substantiated for abuse as determined by the state agency responsible — namely the DPPC — but can work the following week, month or year at another location with vulnerable individuals is simply wrong," the group said on its website.