P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 3, 2009
AUSTIN — Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, today introduced SB 643, seeking stronger protections for Texans with developmental disabilities. "We must never tolerate the abuse or neglect of our most vulnerable citizens," she said. "These special Texans deserve to be protected and treated with dignity and respect. That is the goal of this legislation."
SB 643, declared emergency legislation today by Governor Rick Perry, establishes an Office of Independent Ombudsman to audit state schools annually and serve as a confidential intermediary for parents, clients and guardians. Additionally, this legislation:
- Ensures that the Office operates independently of the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), which oversees state schools, and is led by an appointee of the Governor;
- Creates a toll-free hotline to report abuse, neglect and misconduct at our state schools and requires that the number be posted prominently at every facility;
- Requires video camera surveillance in common areas of each state school;
- Authorizes the state Office of Inspector General to assist local prosecutors in cases of abuse, neglect, or exploitation;
- Requires DADS to perform random drug tests of its state school employees;
- Requires DADS to perform FBI and DPS fingerprint background checks for state school employees and ensure that it receives real-time arrest information;
- Requires HHSC to contract with an independent party to conduct mortality reviews of any deaths in a state school;
- Designates one state school specifically for court commitments to ensure that this population has access to specialized services;
- Changes state school and superintendent statutory definitions to “state developmental center” and “director of state developmental center."
Texas has been working to improve conditions in its state schools since 2005 when reports surfaced of widespread abuse, neglect and misconduct. A federal investigation is ongoing. The Senate Health & Human Services, chaired by Senator Nelson, led an interim review into the challenges (link to report).
Earlier this session, Senator Nelson filed SB 67 with the intent of requiring that all direct care providers for the disabled, elderly and children submit to FBI fingerprint background checks. She also filed SB 70 transferring authority to investigate licensed Intermediate Care Facilities for the Mentally Retarded from DADS to the Department of Family & Protective Services. SB 72 by Senator Nelson requires health & human service agency employees to complete training in a timely fashion.