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April 7, 2009 (512) 463-0300

SENATE PANEL CONSIDERS STATE SCHOOL BILLS

Sen. Zaffirini
Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo laid out two bills before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, aimed at restricting the use of physical restraint and psychotropic drugs to residents at Texas state schools.

(AUSTIN) — The Senate Health and Human Services heard testimony on two bills Tuesday that seek to change the way the state deals with developmentally disabled individuals in its care. Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, author of both bills, testified that although other states are moving away from physical restraints and drug controls of patients at state developmental centers, their use continues in Texas. She cited a recent Department of Justice investigation into state schools in Texas that found more than 10,000 instances of physical restraint applied to 751 residents in one year. "That is appalling," she said. The same report found, she said, that 78 percent of state school residents with maladaptive behaviors are given psychotropic drugs for treatment. Her bills would restrict the use of physical restraint and psychoactive drugs at Texas state developmental centers.

Zaffirini's first bill, SB 751, would prohibit the use of straightjackets or prone holds, where the person is held on the ground, in all cases. Other forms of physical restraint could only be used in cases where there is an imminent risk of serious injury to the resident or other residents. When a restraint is necessary, only the least restrictive form would be permitted. The Department of Aging and Disability Services would have to compile a report of each instance of physical restraint at state schools each month. The bill would also prohibit the use of psychotropic medication as a restraint method, unless specifically ordered by a judge or psychologist.

The second bill, SB 750, deals with the use of psychotropic drugs at state schools. Zaffirini told the committee that too many state school residents are given medication when there is no reason to do so. "Many consumers receive medication with no diagnosis or without being identified as having a mental disorder not otherwise specified," she said. "The DOJ found that the quality of psychiatric diagnosis in Texas state schools falls far below professionally accepted standards."

Under SB 750, developmentally disabled residents at state schools would be given the same right to refuse medication that other institutionalized citizens do. This could only be overridden in the case of a medication related emergency, or if the person's legally authorized representative or a judge orders otherwise. When prescribing medication to a state school resident, a physician would have to provide to the person or the person giving consent for the medication information about the condition to be treated, any possible risk or benefit to the medicine, as well as any accepted alternative treatments for the condition. Physicians could apply for a court order to administer the medication in situations where they deemed it necessary. Then if the court decides that the resident lacks mental capacity, and the medication is in the person's best interest, then the medication could be administered against a resident's wishes.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 8 at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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