Assembly Approves Changes to Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, Tucker, McKnight, Mukjerji & Wimberly Bill Ensuring Enactment of Protections for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

‘Stephen Komninos’ Law’ Will Put Measures in Place to Better Address Reports of Abuse and Neglect in State-Licensed Facilities 

(TRENTON) – The General Assembly on Monday unanimously concurred with recommendations contained in the Governor’s conditional veto of legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gabriela Mosquera, Cleopatra Tucker, Angela McKnight, Raj Mukherji and Benjie Wimberly to better protect children and adults with development disabilities from potential abuse and neglect by caregivers.

The bill (A-2503), known as “Stephen Komninos’ Law,” honors the memory of Stephen Komninos, an individual with developmental disabilities who died at the age of 22 while under the care of a private state-licensed facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.  Stephen was a non-verbal young man who suffered through many substantiated incidents of abuse and neglect by caregivers.  Tragically, the last incident resulted in his death. 

“This has been a long, hard-fought victory on behalf of Stephen Komninos and his family,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This bill, while not ideally what we were seeking, will still guarantee a significant overhaul to our system and help us meet our goal of preventing future tragedies.   At the end of the day, it puts significant protections in place to help uncover any incidents of abuse or neglect and ensure that these incidents are addressed as swiftly as possible and those responsible are held accountable.  I want to thank all of the advocates who fought alongside us to help create an environment that does not tolerate the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of individuals with developmental disabilities.”

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Assembly OKs Vainieri Huttle, Eustace, Tucker, McKnight & Benson Measure Barring Christie from Transferring Addiction & Mental Health Services

Resolution Cites Lack of Planning, Details & Consultation with Stakeholders; Now Awaits Senate Consideration 

(TRENTON) – By a vote of 42-25, the General Assembly on Monday approved a measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Cleopatra Tucker, Angela McKnight and Daniel Benson to block Gov. Christie’s plan to transfer the functions of the state’s mental health and addiction services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health.

Last week, the Assembly Human Services Committee, chaired by Vainieri Huttle, held a joint hearing on the plan with the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee at which time representatives from over 20 organizations and stakeholders expressed concerns regarding the content, potential effects, and timing of the planned reorganization. 

 “I wholeheartedly agree that mental health and substance abuse diagnoses are indeed health issues and that primary physical healthcare must be integrated with mental healthcare and addiction treatment,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).  “However, the hasty, unilateral approach the administration has employed in going about this leaves little confidence that this is being undertaken in the right manner.  Mental health and addiction experts who testified at the joint legislative hearing we held last week adamantly agree that this is not a viable way to make this happen.”

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Vainieri Huttle on Trump’s Transgender Military Ban

(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, the lead sponsor of a comprehensive package of bills to boost transgender rights, including two new laws signed last week, issued the following statement Wednesday on President Trump’s decision to reinstate the military’s ban on transgender individuals:

“This move is completely unjustifiable and likely just meant to be a distraction from all the scandals and failures plaguing the Trump administration, which makes it all the more mean-spirited. 

“Only days ago we were celebrating the passage of two key pieces of legislation to create a more inclusive and non-discriminatory environment for transgender residents in New Jersey – legislation that was even signed and backed by Gov. Christie.

“Just when we thought we were one step ahead, Donald Trump just put us two steps back,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).


Now Law: Jasey, McKeon & Vainieri Huttle Bill Encouraging Mental Health Physicians to Work in Underserved Areas

Measure Establishes Tuition Reimbursement Program for Psychiatrists, Addressing Shortage of Mental Health Care Access in Certain Parts of the State 

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, John McKeon and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to reimburse tuition for psychiatrists who work in underserved areas of the state has been signed into law.

“The reimbursement program will only be available to physicians who engage in the full-time practice of psychiatry in an area of need designated by the Commissioner of Health,” said Jasey (D- Essex/Morris). “The intent of this law is to increase access to much-needed care in underserved communities.”

Under the new law (S-2331/A-3962), the Commissioner of Health will designate, on the basis of health status and economic indicators, geographic areas of the state that have a shortage of physicians in the specialty of psychiatry. The program will provide reimbursement of a portion of medical school tuition expenses to psychiatrists who agree to provide mental health care services in one of these state underserved areas for a period of one to four years.

“The decrease in mental health centers in the state has left a void in care for New Jersey residents who rely on these services,” said McKeon (D- Essex/Morris). “Mostly low-income urban and rural communities are without access to these services. This law is about creating opportunity and access for residents.”

“There are many steps we must take as a state to improve and strengthen mental healthcare services,” said Vainieri Huttle (D- Bergen). “This law is one of those steps toward expanding access to care for residents who need it.” 

Program participants must be state residents, be state-licensed physicians who have completed all educational and residency training requirements for the practice of psychiatry and apply for the program within one year of completing an accredited residency program in psychiatry.


Vainieri Huttle: Christie’s DMHAS Restructuring Plan Raises More Questions than Answers

Human Services Chairwoman Questions Wisdom of Transferring Addiction & Mental Health Services after Joint Legislative Hearing 

(TRENTON) – Assembly Human Services Committee Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) questioned Gov. Christie’s decision to transfer the state’s mental health and addiction services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health after receiving several hours of testimony from providers and advocates during a joint hearing with the Senate on Tuesday.

“One thing advocates made repeatedly clear today is that the Christie administration did not consult with any of them to gauge the impact this overhaul will have on some of our most vulnerable populations.  That’s extremely concerning on many levels. 

“Perhaps the most pressing concern involves timing.  With less than six months left in his term, Gov. Christie has ordered a massive restructuring of mental health and addiction services to take place in less than 60 days.  With the state of healthcare in limbo at the federal level and a new state administration poised to take over in six months, consciously choosing to inject turmoil into an already chaotic situation seems ill-advised at best and extremely irresponsible at worse.  

“We have no idea what the impact will be on providers on the ground who are already grappling with the challenges of the fee-for-service transition.  We also have no idea how this will impact individuals and their families, many of whom suffer from both mental health issues and developmental disabilities and will now have to deal with two different departments when navigating an already difficult system.

“This hearing raised more questions than answers.  But one thing we do know is that a restructuring of this magnitude should not be undertaken without those answers.”


Mazzeo, Lagana, Vainieri Huttle, & Benson Bill to Educate Parents of Prescription Opioid Use Now Law

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vincent Mazzeo, Joseph Lagana, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Daniel Benson creating a state-led effort to educate parents of student-athletes and cheerleaders on the use and misuse of prescription opioids is now law.

“The law ensures that young people and their parents are educated as early as possible about the dangers of opioid abuse and addiction,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “It is critical to provide this information to students who participate in athletics to make certain that, in the event they are prescribed an opioid for an injury, they will be fully knowledgeable of the risks of misuse.”

“Prescription drug abuse has taken a heartbreaking toll on many young residents and their families,” said Lagana (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Student-athletes are more vulnerable than others due to injuries that may occur while playing a sport. We are stepping up efforts to inform parents about the potential of opioid abuse and how to prevent it from happening to their children.”

The law (A-3944) requires the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health, to develop an educational fact sheet that provides information concerning the use and misuse of opioid drugs in the event that a student-athlete or cheerleader is prescribed an opioid for a sports-related injury.

“Opioid and prescription drug abuse is a serious problem among student athletes, many of which say it all began with a prescription given for an injury,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Effective prevention begins with awareness. This helps to get the word out to all student-athletes and families about the dangers of opioid abuse.”

“Opioid abuse is a nationwide epidemic that is rapidly rising, particularly, among students-athletes,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Cautioning parents and students about the medicine they choose to take when injured may save a life from potential abuse and addiction.”

The law requires school districts and nonpublic schools that participate in interscholastic sports or cheerleading programs to distribute the fact sheet annually to the parents or guardians of student-athletes and cheerleaders, and to obtain a signed acknowledgement of the receipt of the fact sheet by the student and his parent or guardian.


Eustace, Karabinchak, McKeon, Vainieri Huttle & Benson Bill to Create Water Quality Accountability Act Now Law

Measure Enhances the Reliability and Safety of the State’s Drinking Water, Will Apply to All Water Purveyors 

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Timothy Eustace, Robert Karabinchak, John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Daniel Benson to establish a proactive cybersecurity policy for all water purveyors in order to enhance the reliability and safety of the state’s drinking water systems was signed into law on Friday.

In March 2016, the BPU adopted cybersecurity requirements applicable to the electric, natural gas, water, and wastewater utilities that it regulates. The new law will apply those requirements to all water purveyors.

 “We have seen many cybersecurity threats in recent years,” said Eustace (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Whether it is attacking our personal information online or threatening critical resources, the state must take steps to protect residents from cybersecurity breaches. This law will codify present cybersecurity requirements established by the BPU and strengthen protections of our water resources by extending these requirements to all water suppliers. ”

The law establishes specific standards for testing of fire hydrants. It would also establish policy concerning certain testing, reporting, management, and infrastructure investment requirements for water purveyors.

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Sumter, Vainieri Huttle & Lampitt Bill to Establish Career Training Program for Low-Income Women Now Law

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Pamela Lampitt to help make women more competitive in the workforce and encourage financial stability among women was signed into law on Friday.

The bill (S-2403/A-3717) would establish the Women’s Vocational Training Pilot Program in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) to promote the economic self-sufficiency of low-income women through increased participation in high-wage, high-demand occupations.

“Closing the gender wage gap begins with making sure that women receive equal pay for equal work, but another important factor is making sure women have the tools they need to compete in every industry,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “New Jersey’s women already have the resilience and work ethic they need to succeed. This program will empower them with the right training and opportunities.”

The purpose of the program is to improve the employability of women in nontraditional occupations through education and training. Under the law, a nontraditional occupation is one in which women account for 25 percent or less of those employed in the field. Such occupations include: architecture, computer programming, engineering, trucking and construction.

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Vainieri Huttle & Caride Bill to Create Safe & Welcoming School Environment for Trans Students Now Law

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic) to help create a safe, inclusive and accepting school environment for transgender students was signed into law on Friday.

According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41 percent of trans people attempted suicide in their lifetimes, compared to 1.6 percent of the general population.

Fifty-nine percent of survey responders said they avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems, and about one-third said they limited the amount that they ate and drank to avoid using a restroom.

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Vainieri Huttle, Eustace, Pinkin, Jasey & Johnson Bill to Protect Transgender Persons from Discrimination in Health-Care Coverage Now Law

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Nancy Pinkin, Mila Jasey and Gordon Johnson to prohibit health insurers from denying transgender individuals health care coverage based on gender identity has been signed into law.

“Now more than ever, we need to stand up for those who are being marginalized,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).  “Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide.  While tremendous strides have been made in recent years to advance equality for members of the ‘LGB’ community, much more still needs to be done to help protect our brothers and sisters in the ‘T’ community.”

“Although we’ve seen greater awareness in recent years of the challenges faced by transgender individuals, they still often face fierce cultural and institutional discrimination,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic).  “It’s incumbent upon us as government officials to stand up for all of our constituents who are being ignored or discriminated against by ensuring that we enshrine equality in our laws.”

The law (A-4568) prohibits health insurers and health maintenance organizations, as well as health benefits plans or contracts which are issued or purchased pursuant to the New Jersey Individual Health Coverage Program, New Jersey Small Employer Health Benefits Program, State Health Benefits Program, and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program from discriminating in the provision of coverage on the basis of gender identity or expression. The prohibited discrimination relates to currently covered persons and prospective covered persons. 

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