CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2009
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385
Meeting the Needs of Texans with Developmental Disabilities
This legislative session we are proposing bills that address the needs and precious rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Following a report issued in December by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revealing that our state schools failed to protect residents, the Governor declared this matter a legislative emergency. Reports of widespread abuse and neglect beginning in 2005 culminated in the investigation.
The DOJ found ongoing safety and civil rights violations, including 53 preventable deaths and thousands of abuse and neglect cases at our 13 residential care facilities, where 4,673 residents from throughout the state live and receive care.
State schools provide residential services for chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities and serious mental illness to individuals from throughout the state.
My colleagues and I are filing legislation to address the concerns of the DOJ report, but primarily to give people with intellectual disabilities the option of community living and offer them enhanced protections.
I filed Senate Bill 639 that provides a comprehensive Bill of Rights specifically tailored for state school residents.
This Bill of Rights sends a message that the lives of residents in state schools are every bit as valuable as those of the general population, and that crimes against them should be taken just as seriously as those against non-disabled persons.
While SB 639 in no way limits civil rights guaranteed under the Constitution and laws of this country, it does strengthen and more clearly enumerates the protection of freedom from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
It solidifies that residents of state care facilities can make decisions impacting their rights and freedoms. In situations involving minors, their parents or legal guardians can act in their stead.
Most importantly, my bill will codify into statute that if there is abuse, neglect or exploitation, a state school resident has the explicit right to report the perpetrator and do so with confidentiality. When pertaining to minors, their parents or legal guardians must be notified within 24 hours of an incident.
Through this bill, I want to ensure that our state's residential care facilities protect basic human rights and promote optimum living conditions.
In addition, I am also addressing the development of a long-term, strategic plan sorely needed in Texas for serving young people with disabilities. Issues complicating our piecemeal and ineffective mental health system are the rising rates of autism, the increasing number of children admitted into state schools and long waiting lists for home and community-based services.
My proposal would create a Taskforce on Children and Youth with Special Needs for newborns to 21-year-olds. I am optimistic that this five-year plan would certainly improve the coordination and quality of services for this young population.
Among many goals, this plan would eventually eliminate the presence of children and adolescents in large institutions, while increasing the number of community-based options for them.
People with developmental and intellectual disabilities of any age and their families face enormous challenges. Texas too faces enormous challenges in trying to adequately serve them. I am committed to this effort, especially for South Texas, one of the most economically depressed and medically under-served areas in the nation.
Whether in a state facility or community setting, these Texans deserve the highest level of services, rights and protections that we can offer. This session, I feel we will more closely meet these expectations. As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.