P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2009
AUSTIN — State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, joined Governor Rick Perry at the Texas Capitol yesterday for a bill signing ceremony for SB 643, a $34.1 million reform plan filed by Senator Nelson to better protect Texans with developmental disabilities living in our state schools. To watch the bill signing ceremony, visit http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/12535.
"I was sad and angry to learn of the abuse and neglect that has occurred in many of our 13 state schools. Texans with developmental disabilities should be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve our protection, our oversight and our compassion," Senator Nelson said. "I am grateful that the Legislature approved this legislation, which I firmly believe will improve the lives of Texans with disabilities and ensure they receive proper care."
Texas has been working to improve conditions in its state schools since reports surfaced of widespread abuse, neglect and misconduct. The Department of Justice has been investigating these issues since 2005. SB 643 establishes an Office of Independent Ombudsman to audit state schools biannually and serve as a confidential intermediary for parents, clients and guardians. Additionally, this legislation:
- Ensures that the Ombudsman 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 high-risk alleged offender residents;
- Changes state school and superintendent statutory definitions to “state supported living center” and “director of state supported living center."
In addition to SB 643, which takes effect upon the governor's signing, Senator Nelson filed SCR 77 this session providing legislative approval to a settlement reached last month with the Department of Justice. As a part of the settlement, the state agrees to approximately $48.1 million in improvements over the next two years, including independent monitors and enhanced services to meet the medical, psychological and other needs of state school residents. On hand for today's ceremony were several families of residents in the Denton State School, which is located in the Senate District represented by Senator Nelson, as well as the school's director, Nancy Condon.