BOSTON (SHNS) – Rep. Denise Garlick will chair the new permanent Commission on the Status of Persons With Disabilities after the Needham Democrat and registered nurse was elected by her fellow commissioners on Wednesday at the group’s first meeting.
The commission was created by a late 2020 law with a broad mandate to “advance the cause of persons with disabilities,” including the improvement of access to transportation, food, housing and work. “With the funding we have received effective as of today, it’s important we launch our work to show our strong commitment. Issues and concerns of people with disabilities, as we all know regardless of the disability, have either been illuminated or exacerbated during the COVID-19 time and the urgency to begin is today,” Garlick said.
The idea for the commission came out of the work of the “WorkAbility” subcommittee of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Rep. Josh Cutler chaired that subcommittee and successfully incorporated the language creating the commission into an unrelated policing reform bill agreed to at the end of last year.
“I’m delighted that this just all worked out perfectly. Things don’t often go according to plan, but this went as well as it could,” Cutler said Wednesday, joining the virtual meeting to offer his encouragement. The subcommittee also recommended the creation of tax incentives for private employers to hire people with disabilities, and those tax credits were signed last week by Gov. Charlie Baker as part of the annual state budget.
Employers who hire disabled workers can claim a credit of 30 percent of the worker’s wages up to $5,000 in the first year and up to $2,000 in subsequent years. Garlick said she intends to meet the commission’s statutory requirement that it report annually by Oct. 31 on its work and any recommendations, though it’s not clear at this point where the commission will focus its early attention. “I anticipate the commission will submit a report. We know it will be preliminary, but we are demonstrating we are committed and moving forward with our work,” Garlick said. The commission has a budget of $150,000, and members elected Chris White, CEO of Road to Responsibility, as vice chairman.