Vainieri Huttle Concerned that Christie’s Plan to Reorganize Mental Health & Addiction Services Will Move Forward without Key Answers or Details
(TRENTON) – Assembly Human Services Committee Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) expressed disappointment Thursday that the Christie administration’s plan to transfer the state's mental health and addiction services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health will now seemingly move forward.
Vainieri Huttle was the lead sponsor of legislation passed by the Assembly in July that would have blocked this move based on a litany of concerns regarding the content, potential effects, and timing of the planned reorganization. With the plan scheduled to go into effect on Monday, the Senate had scheduled a voting session for tomorrow to take up the matter, however, the session was cancelled this afternoon.
“I’m extremely disappointed that this plan will seemingly take effect now when we still haven’t received any details or answers to the host of questions we have about its implementation.
“With the fate of so many of our most vulnerable residents hanging in the balance, it seems careless to embark on such a complex transition without concrete details when the current administration has one foot out the door. As I have said repeatedly, we have no idea what the impact of this restructuring will be on those who rely on these services, but the one thing we do know is that a change of this magnitude should not be undertaken without those answers.
“Ultimately, I would like to see the governor reconsider this plan but, if not, this transition must be undertaken carefully and not hastily. Hopefully the next administration will reexamine this issue thoroughly to ensure that it is in fact the right thing to do for those suffering from mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities,” said Vainieri Huttle.
Johnson, Vainieri Huttle & Wimberly Bill to Develop Sexual Assault Training Course for Police Now Law
(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to establish a sexual assault training course for law enforcement officers has been signed into law.
“We cannot tolerate a culture in which victims of sexual assault lack confidence in the men and women responsible for responding to them,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Developing a course so that officers can receive training on dealing with sexual assault appropriately will encourage reporting and reinforce our state’s commitment to justice for every resident.”
The law (A-2167) requires the Division of Criminal Justice to develop or approve a training course and curriculum for law enforcement officers on handling, investigation and response procedures for reports of sexual assault. Under the law, the curriculum must be made available to all the law enforcement agencies in the state. The law also requires all law enforcement officers to attend an in-service program on the handling of sexual assault matters every three years.
“There is no excuse for law enforcement officers putting victims of sexual violence through further suffering with insensitive questioning or treatment that causes a sense of shame. That kind of behavior discourages many victims from coming forward and allows attackers to commit the same offense repeatedly without consequence,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Sexual assault is a crime, and this law will help law enforcement officers – the men and women whose job it is to protect and serve New Jersey residents – better perform their duties.”
“Many victims of sexual assault fail to report their abuse out of embarrassment and fear,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It is important not only for the well-being of the victim but for the integrity of the investigation that law enforcement officers know how to handle these cases. Having officers who are properly trained to assist these victims can ensure that victims get the help they need, and officers are able to get the information needed to bring their perpetrators to justice.”
Schaer, Vainieri Huttle, Chiaravalloti, Caride & Mukherji Bill to Increase Protections for Young People with Developmental Disabilities Receiving State Services Now Law
(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Marlene Caride and Raj Mukherji to provide protections for children and young adults with developmental disabilities who have been subjected to abuse or neglect has been signed into law.
The law (A-3386) provides protection for individuals with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 21 who have been subjected to abuse, neglect, or exploitation and are receiving services from the Division of Children’s System of Care (CSOC) in the Department of Children and Families.
“With regards to abuse and neglect, the law failed to provide statutory provisions for our most vulnerable residents,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The new law rectifies this oversight by requiring the state to institute regulations and monitor closely care service providers within the division as well as community providers.”
There were no statutory provisions that specifically mandated the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to conduct a child abuse registry check on a person seeking employment at DCF, in facilities or programs licensed, contracted, regulated, or funded by DCF or DHS, or seeking to provide community-based services to individuals with developmental disabilities.Read more
(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle to help towns crack down on smoking in public places without criminalizing smokers has been signed into law.
Specifically, the law (A-2368) authorizes a municipality to adopt an ordinance that provides a civil penalty of up to $200 for smoking in a public place without the option for incarceration of up to 30 days that exists under current law.
“Everybody should be entitled to breathe air free of smoke,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This will tweak our current law to make sure there’s a clear enough disincentive to prevent people from violating the Smoke-Free Air Act without criminalizing smokers and threatening to throw them in jail.”
Current law limits the discretion of a municipality in regard to imposing a penalty for smoking in public places by requiring that the penalty be for a petty disorderly persons offense, which would include imprisonment for up to 30 days or a criminal fine of up to $200, or both.
This new law provides a municipality with the option to adopt an ordinance that penalizes smoking in a public place without making it a criminal offense or subjecting an offender to possible incarceration while still permitting the municipality to make the activity a disorderly persons offense as it is authorized to do under current law. The law takes effect immediately.
McKnight, Holley, Vainieri Huttle, Houghtaling, Chiavaralloti & Quijano Bill to Provide Free Snow Removal Services for Seniors & Disabled Residents Now Law
(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Angela McKnight, Jamel Holley, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Eric Houghtaling, Nicholas Chiavaravalloti and Annette Quijano to create a municipal volunteer program that would provide free snow removal services for seniors and disabled residents has been signed into law.
“Even the most able bodied person can have a hard time clearing out snow after a heavy snow fall. For seniors and disabled residents, the task can be strenuous and even risky. For some, it’s simply not doable,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “This will help connect seniors and disabled residents with volunteers in their communities who can help clear out snow and ice so these residents can safely enter and exit their homes and carry on their usual activities in the aftermath of a severe storm.”
The law (A-3381) gives each municipality the option to establish a volunteer program for the free removal of snow and ice from the entrance ways, driveways, and abutting sidewalks of residential properties in the municipality that are occupied by seniors and disabled persons.Read more
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.”Read more
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.”Read more
(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.
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.”