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Massachusetts House Votes To Slow Fernald Closure
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 10, 2003

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--The state House of Representatives on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to oppose Governor Mitt Romney's plan to close Fernald Development Center, the oldest publicly-funded institution housing people with developmental disabilities in the Western Hemisphere, in the next year. The measure now moves to the state Senate, where it may or may not be brought up for a vote, according to the Daily News Tribune.

In late February, Romney announced the 155-year-old facility would be shut down during the 2004 fiscal year and its 300 residents would either move to the state's five other facilities or to homes in the community, to bridge a $3 billion budget gap.

But leaders in the community surrounding the 200-acre Fernald campus joined parents of those housed at the facility to put pressure on lawmakers to override Romney's plan.

The legislature passed measures that would require a cost analysis before closing Fernald, keep the facility from closing before October 2004, and establish a committee to determine how the land should be used.

Romney vetoed those laws.

The House needed a two-thirds majority to override the governor's vetoes. On Wednesday, the House voted 139-13 in favor of overriding his veto on the cost analysis, and 128-22 in favor of overriding the veto on the land reuse committee.

The Senate has until the end of November to bring the measures to a vote. Local lawmakers want them brought earlier to the Senate floor, where they would also require a two-thirds majority to override Romney's vetoes.

Social reformer Samuel Gridley Howe founded the institution with a $2,500 appropriation from the state legislature in 1848. Originally called the "Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded", the facility was renamed the Walter E. Fernald State School in 1925 after its first resident superintendent.

"These were facilities that were built in a time when they put people away," Mary Lou Maloney, legislative liaison for Arc Massachusetts told the Boston Globe earlier this year. "People with disabilities can live in the community."

Arc Massachusetts and other organizations have been pushing for the state's six facilities to be shuttered since 1990. Most of the institutions have not admitted new residents for more than 25 years because of court orders following complaints of overcrowding.

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