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NELSON'S STATE SCHOOL REFORM BILL PASSES TEXAS HOUSE
AUSTIN — The Texas House of Representatives today approved SB 643, legislation by State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to better protect Texans with developmental disabilities living in our state schools. The bill returns to the Senate with amendments before it can be sent to the governor.
"This legislation will see to it that our state school residents receive proper care from staff who are better trained. It also establishes an independent oversight structure and calls for the use of video surveillance to serve as a strong deterrent against abuse or neglect," Senator Nelson said. "This vulnerable population deserves the best possible care and our protection from harm."
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 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."
The cost of SB 643 as it left the Senate was about $20.9 million over the next two years. The House added several amendments, which Senator Nelson is reviewing, that could increase the overall cost. When a bill returns to the Senate with amendments, the Senate author may either move to concur with House amendments or request a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.