Bill seeks registry to protect disabled people

  • State Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr., R-Westfield GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 10/21/2019 2:34:29 PM

BOSTON — People with disabilities who need a caregiver are closer to being protected from abuse through a registry that would maintain a list of such perpetrators — similar to that of sex offenders. 

Massachusetts senators unanimously passed an amended version of a bill that would establish the registry last week, advancing it to the House which will decide the fate of the legislation. 

State Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr., R-Westfield, is a member of the Legislature’s Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities which has previously held hearings on the legislation. Humason, a co-sponsor for the bill, said it is unfortunate that creating this registry is necessary. 

“It’s unfortunate that people in this day and age would prey upon the disabled as they do, and as a society, it is our job to stop them and prevent them from hurting more people,” he said of the legislation, which serves people with mental and developmental disabilities. 

If passed, the bill will allow employers to search for someone on the registry before hiring caretakers. Many group and nursing homes hire people who are not appropriate for dealing with vulnerable populations, even with the required background checks, Humason said. 

The senator also said that there has not really been a way to punish perpetrators of abuse in the past, noting it is sometimes difficult for witnesses to testify. Abuse, as defined by the bill, includes any physical and emotional damage done to the disabled patient.  

Rep. Angelo Puppolo, Jr., D-Springfield, a leading co-sponsor of the bill in the House, wrote in an email that there are “plenty of checks and balances in place” before a caregiver’s name is added into the registry. 

“I think it’s a fair and balanced proposal that will further protect people with disabilities,” Pupppolo wrote. 

Humason said that due process for the alleged abusers is important to ensure the registry is credible. Under due process, someone who is accused of abuse will have the opportunity to “defend themselves and their reputation,” before being entered into the registry by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission. 

“We don’t want people on the registry who don’t deserve to be there,” he said. 

The DPPC, which has been involved in the development of the bill, is responsible for responding to reports of abuse and maintaining the registry. 

Nancy Alteiro, executive director of the DPPC, wrote in an email that she hopes the registry “will lead to the better protection of individuals with disabilities in our commonwealth.” 

In drafting the legislation, Humason heard several “real-life horror stories” of people with disabilities who have been abused by people whose job it is to take care of them. 

“Even one story is too much,” he said. 

Humason also said that while the bill will not entirely eliminate abuse toward disabled people, it is one step toward fewer people getting hurt. 

“Just because someone is on there, doesn’t mean it’s going to protect society from these people — but it’s at least one tool to do that.” 

Noor Adatia writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program.

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