On Wednesday, May 11, the House Human Services Committee held a hearing on the Senate bill (SB 2610) establishing a continuum of care license and voted 12 to 2 in favor of the bill. 

As you recall, there are two bills that would establish the continuum of care license, House Bill 6304 and Senate Bill 2610.  The two bills are similar, but not exactly the same.  When we first submitted the proposed legislation in January, the Legislative Research Bureau, an agency of the State that reviews all proposed bills before they get submitted to the General Assembly, had a few suggestions to clarify our proposed language.  We amended both bills to conform to LRB’s suggestions.  However, when the bills were sent to the House and Senate committees in early March, the Senate Bill reflected these minor changes, but the House Bill did not.  Last month, the House Human Services Committee approved HB 6304 by a 12 to 2 vote and the full House voted in favor of HB 6304 by a vote of 110 to 4.  Also last month, the Senate Human Services Committee approved SB 2610 by a 6 to 1 vote and the full Senate voted in favor of SB 2610 by a vote of 58 to 0.

However, before a bill can be sent to the Governor for signature, it must be approved by both the House and the Senate.  Even though both houses approved their respective versions of the bill, this is not sufficient.  Both houses of the legislature must approve the exact same bill.  Therefore, SB 2610 was sent by the Senate to the House for approval, resulting in the second hearing this week in the House Human Services Committee.  Kevin Connelly and I went down to testify at the hearing and we were accompanied by Misericordia’s Springfield lobbyist John Nicolay and the Republican Leader in the House, Miz Advisory Board Member, Jim Durkin.  Jim presented the bill to the committee and reminded committee members that they held a hearing on a virtually identical bill and approved that bill just a few weeks ago.  The chair of the committee noted that 951 witness slips were submitted in favor of SB 2610 and only 139 witness slips were submitted in opposition.  Once again, Miz families and friends came through over the weekend as Sister Rosemary requested.

Two witnesses, one a lawyer for ARC, testified against the SB 2610, raising essentially the same arguments that were presented to the committee last time.  They again claimed that the legislation could jeopardize federal Medicaid matching funds and that the bill did not protect the “due process” rights of Miz residents.  Ironically, they also argued that the legislation did not protect choice for individuals with developmental disabilities.  It is an interesting argument coming from those who seek to deprive of us of our choice.  We were able to respond to all of the arguments, pointing out that the proposed bill protects the State’s ability to continue to receive federal Medicaid matching funds and that Misericordia has always protected its residents’ right to choose and their due process rights.  We pointed out that the Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Jim Dimas, met with us at Miz last week and raised no concerns regarding the legislation.  We also said that we assured Sec. Dimas that Miz would work with him and his staff on developing appropriate regulations under the continuum of care license.  With that, the Committee voted with the exact same 12 to 2 vote on the Senate Bill as it voted on the House Bill last month.

The Senate Bill now awaits a vote by the full House.  However, the Governor’s office has indicated that they may have some suggested language changes to deal with concerns raised by the agencies, principally the Department of Aging, regarding the federal Medicaid matching funds issue.  We told the Governor’s office that we are willing to consider any language changes that do not undercut the principal objectives of the bill.  We are hopeful that any suggested language changes will be provided in the next couple of weeks.  If there are changes made to the bill, it will have to go back to both the Senate and House Human Services Committees for another vote and then be voted on again by the full House and Senate, before the bill is submitted to the Governor.

I know the legislative process can seem frustratingly long and cumbersome.  However, if one thinks about this process in the broader context, rather than in the context of this bill that is so important to Misericordia, one can see its wisdom.  Our founding fathers (I don’t mean to be sexist, but the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was attended only by men), purposefully designed the process to be long and cumbersome with lots of check points.  They wanted it to be difficult to pass legislation to protect against imprudent new laws being rushed through.  We simply need to be persistent and resilient and we should get this done.

Because there may well be more committee hearings, we will likely be asking you again in the coming weeks to submit witness statements in support of the bill when those hearings are scheduled.  Please look out for e mails from Sister Rosemary and please follow through on completing witness statements and e mailing the members of the committee.  As we have seen, our opponents will continue to try to derail the bill and we need to continue to demonstrate the overwhelming support that this bill has and its importance to our loved ones.