AUGUSTA – People with intellectual disabilities and their families told lawmakers Wednesday that a measure backed by Gov. Paul LePage would hamper their ability to weigh in on significant funding changes to state services.

Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services would no longer be required to hold a public hearing in the Legislature or get lawmakers’ approval to change MaineCare reimbursement rates for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

Anna McDougal of Wiscasset told the Health and Human Services Committee the measure would “silence families” and urged lawmakers not to take away her right to advocate for or against changes affecting her and others with intellectual disabilities.

“Transparency is vital to ensuring the best outcomes for individuals, their families and our community,” she said. “Secrecy breeds abuse.”

Samuel Senft, director of MaineCare Policy for DHHS, told the committee that the public would still have plenty of opportunities to provide input on service rules if the bill passes. The department would still hold public hearings, but they wouldn’t be held before legislative committees and lawmakers wouldn’t get the final say.

DHHS spokesman David Sorensen said each of the changes the department has proposed over the last several years have passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature with little opposition. Waiting for lawmakers to take action can often take months, so the department wants to make the process more efficient.

“We’re trying to make it simpler, faster and more streamlined for the people that depend on these services,” Sorensen said.

But Deborah Dionne, whose adult daughter has cerebral palsy, said she believes that the bill could have “serious ramifications” for her daughter’s safety because it would remove a layer of oversight if the department seeks to cut rates for services that she needs.

“If rates change, Kate will get far less support, and I believe her safety will become severely compromised,” the Georgetown resident said. “Given the extent of her disabilities, I see a high potential for a life-threatening situation.”

Republican Sen. Eric Brakey, who serves as co-chairman of the committee, introduced the bill on the department’s behalf but said he opposes it and “believes that these decisions should be in the hands of the Legislature.”

He said that while it’s a traditional courtesy for committee chairs to sponsor bills for departments, that doesn’t prevent him from opposing the measure.

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