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STATE SCHOOL REFORM BILL PASSES TEXAS SENATE
AUSTIN — The Texas Senate passed its first piece of legislation today – SB 643 by State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, strengthening oversight of Texas' state schools for the developmentally disabled. The bill, which Governor Perry has granted emergency status, now moves to the House.
"We cannot tolerate the abuse or neglect of citizens with these disabilities. This legislation is critically needed to ensure the safety of our state school residents. These are people with serious disabilities and they deserve our respect, our oversight and our compassion," Senator Nelson said.
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 of the challenges.
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 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 high-risk residents;
- Changes state school and superintendent statutory definitions to "state developmental center" and "director of state developmental center."
Earlier this session, Senator Nelson filed SB 67, 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.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.