Public Health Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5741

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING SOBER LIVING HOMES.

Vote Date:

3/24/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

2/22/2017

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Public Health Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill allows sober living homes to register with DMHAS and prohibits homes that do not do so from advertising or holding themselves out as sober living homes. It requires the department to establish criteria to accept and revoke a sober living home registration.

In order to maintain registration, a home that has a resident diagnosed by a licensed health care professional with an opioid use disorder must (1) maintain a supply of opioid antagonists on the premises and (2) train residents in how to administer them.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Raul Pino, MD, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH):

Dr. Pino submitted testimony on behalf of DPH raising several concerns about HB 5741. Since sober homes are currently not under the regulatory oversight of DPH, the purpose of sober homes registering with the Department is unclear. In addition, DPH cannot assume new licensure or certification responsibilities with existing resources.

Dr. Pino also stated that DPH has been working with the Governor's Office, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) to ensure the availability of Naloxone in communities.

Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Commissioner, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services:

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) submitted testimony expressing concern that requiring sober homes to register with the state as a business entity would limit the ability of individuals in recovery to live in residential areas since it could provide increased opportunity for discriminatory or stigmatizing behavior towards them. Many sober homes consist of voluntary groups of people who live together under house rules to not use drugs or alcohol. Sober housing is not treatment but instead a way to offer valuable peer support while an individual participates in recovery treatment.

Representative Chris Soto:

Representative Soto submitted testimony in support of HB 5741, stating that while Connecticut has excellent sober homes, there must be a clear distinction between those who mutually want to live together in recovery and an individual who is operating under the title of a sober home. By requiring, through legislation, what specifically defines a sober house and requiring landlords to register them as a business, simple protections are given to those in recovery against predatory and absent sober home owners.

Representative Bob Godfrey:

Representative Godfrey submitted testimony in support of the bill requiring sober homes to register with the Department of Public Health stating that since sober homes are not hospitals or clinics, they are not subject to state regulation. Since a majority of sober homes do not offer 12 step programs or staff supervision of tenants, unsupervised addicts live in a potentially life threatening environment where relapse could happen.

Representative Godfrey also expressed support for the law's requirement that all registered sober homes carry a supply of Naloxone and train all tenants on how to administer it.

Michael E. Passero, Mayor, City of New London:

Mayor Passero submitted testimony in strong support of the bill, recognizing that while recovery housing is essential in providing services to those afflicted with drug abuse, it is inexcusable that sober houses are subject to no oversight, accountability or standards other than health, building and fire codes. In the last four years, the City of New London has condemned three houses from one owner in addition to two other homes. In addition, the existence of a sober home is often times discovered when there is a fatality or police interaction with the house.

Mayor Passero urges the bill go further in its proposal. One idea would be to propose a voluntary statewide certification program similar to one launched in Massachusetts in 2014. Sober homes that become certified will be held responsible for maintaining nationally recognized standards of practice that support an effective recovery environment. An additional idea would be to create a list of certified sober homes from which state agencies and state-funded programs will refer individuals in need to. Government money should also only be given to sober homes that are certified.

Marcia A. Leclerc, Mayor, East Hartford:

Mayor Leclerc supports HB 5741 as it will provide local officials with information as to who is responsible for the day to day operations at a sober home in case zoning, housing code or life safety issues arise.

Mayor Leclerc requests that additional language be added to include the following: 1) require all sober homes to provide residents with detailed information concerning substance use treatment options and the availability of off-site support groups and 2) encourage sober homes to adopt house rules that set behavior expectations such as non-use of alcohol and drugs and attendance at house meetings.

Elinor Carbone, Mayor, City of Torrington:

Mayor Carbone submitted testimony in support of the bill stating its necessity since an unsuccessful sober home is a failure to the individuals under its care, to the family members and loved ones who are relying on the home to provide a safer sober environment, and has a significant impact on the safety and character of a community.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities:

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) submitted testimony in support of HB 5741 stating that the bill would provide greater oversight and awareness of the estimated 170 sober homes that exist in Connecticut. By requiring sober homes to register as a business with the host municipality and with the Department of Public Health, local officials will have a more direct point of contact to address issues of safety and well-being with the home's occupants and their surrounding neighbors.

Janine Sullivan-Wiley, Executive Director, Northwest Regional Mental Health Board:

Ms. Sullivan-Wiley submitted testimony in support of the bill stating that the registration of sober homes is necessary as a means to prevent predatory landlords from taking advantage of people attempting to live together in a clear and sober environment. This registration requirement must, however, have substantial safeguards to ensure that the sober home's current or potential residents are not discriminated against for using its services.

Ms. Sullivan-Wiley also strongly supports requiring the presence of and training for the administration of Naloxone in each sober home to save lives.

Cheryl Ragz, Key Recovery Homes LLC:

Key Recovery Homes LLC supports HB 5741 and the creation of sober home standards across Connecticut. The organization already provides Narcan training to every new guest and staff member as well as having Narcan kits on every floor of every house.

Megan McGuire, Recovery Support Specialist:

Ms. McGuire submitted testimony in support of the bill, sharing her experience living in a sober home for nineteen months. She said it was challenging to find any information or credentialing of sober homes in Connecticut. There was also no legal means to expel a resident who violated house rules including the use of drugs and/or alcohol, rendering the house unsafe for all its recovering inhabitants.

Supporting HB 5741 will alleviate the series of issues sober homes currently have including 1) no oversight of sober house administration, structure, accountability or function 2) no source of information on available sober home vacancies in Connecticut and 3) minimal standards for operating and managing a quality sober home that supports, teaches and encourages active recovery for its residents.

The following individuals submitted additional testimony in support of HB 5741:

Elaine M. Dove

Edie Reichard

Anne Ruwet

Mary Cecchinato

Megan McLaughlin

Anne Manusky

Elizabeth Berardi

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Kathy Flaherty, Executive Director, Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.:

Connecticut Legal Rights Project opposed the language in HB 5741 that would require sober homes to register with municipalities or the Department of Public Health. This requirement would lead to reduced housing opportunities for those who choose to live in sober homes and could likely result in increased discrimination against them. Since a person in recovery who is not currently using drugs or alcohol is considered a person with a disability, they have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and federal housing laws and the Connecticut constitution.

Ben Shaiken, Public Policy Specialist, The Alliance:

The Alliance submitted testimony expressing concern that HB 5741 would overly burden nonprofits that operate high-quality, licensed recovery programs in communities across the state. In addition to complying with contractual obligations, these nonprofits are already regulated by the Department of Public Health and/or the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Children and Families. Legislation such as HB 5741 must exclude providers of community-based services such as nonprofits that are already contracted with and/or licensed by a state agency.

The Alliance also expressed concern that registration requirements with municipalities will create opportunities for discrimination because it could cause a “Not in My Backyard” reaction. All people, including those in recovery from addiction, have a right to choose where to live without discrimination.

Greg Kirschner, Legal Director, Connecticut Fair Housing Center:

The Connecticut Fair Housing Center opposes HB 5741 because it violates state fair housing laws and the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which includes individual suffering from alcohol and/or drug abuse. Requiring individuals with disabilities to disclose their presence in a neighborhood is unfair and discriminatory. The bill also conflicts with FHA because it imposes requirements on landlords offering sober living homes to register as a business that are not imposed on landlords or households that do not offer sober living.

Cheryl A. Sharp, Deputy Director, Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities:

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) submitted testimony stating that state and federal fair housing laws allow recovering addicts to live in neighborhoods that will best support their recovery. Requiring sober homes to register as businesses will alert communities to protest their existence, thereby allowing discrimination against people with disabilities and imposing additional barriers to the creation of sober homes.

Reported by: Andres J. Feijoo

Date: 3/30/2017