Vainieri Huttle Bill to Remove Offensive Language Used in State Statutes to Refer to Individuals with Mental Health Conditions Gets Final Legislative OK

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) to rid state statutes of archaic and derogatory language used to describe people with developmental, cognitive or psychiatric disabilities was approved 40-0 Thursday by the Senate, giving it final legislative approval.

"Words hurt and can inflict great pain. At one point these terms may have been acceptable, but they are not today," said Vainieri Huttle. "Individuals living with mental illness deserve respect and dignity. Removing these offensive terms from our statutes will hopefully reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions and shift the focus to recovery."

The bill (A-3357) deletes references to pejorative and archaic language used in the state statutes to refer to persons with developmental, cognitive or psychiatric disabilities. Terms such as "lunatic," "insane," "unsound mind," and "incompetent," when used pejoratively, have been replaced with more respectful language that refer to a person's mental capacity. The replacement of these derogatory terms does not change the meaning of the various sections of the law amended by the bill.

The bill also amends the definition of "incapacitated individual" in Title 3B of the New Jersey Statutes to replace the term "mental deficiency" with "intellectual disability." Additionally, the bill uses "first-person language" when referring to persons with mental incapacity in order to emphasize a person's value, individuality, dignity, and capabilities. The bill also uses gender-neutral terms in most instances, updates names of agencies and eliminates anachronistic language.

Further, the bill repeals the following statutes which are no longer operative:

  • R.S.30:9-1.1, concerning the issuance of bonds for county psychiatric hospitals, which has been superseded by the "Local Bond Law," P.L.1960, c.169 (40A-2.1 et seq.);
  • R.S.30:9-2, concerning judicial appointment of architects, since judges are no longer involved in public construction projects;
  • R.S.30:9-29, concerning aid for county hospitals caring for persons with communicable diseases, since these types of hospitals no longer exist;
  • R.S.44:5-11, concerning annual appropriations by counties to maintain patients in nonprofit hospitals and clinics; and
  • R.S.44:5-19, concerning annual appropriations by certain counties to maintain patients in hospitals that are privately owned or supported by private charity.

The bill is based on the "Final Report Relating to Pejorative Terms Regarding Persons who are Mentally Incapacitated," which was issued by the New Jersey Law Revision Commission in September 2011.

"These outdated terms misrepresent and reduce people with disabilities to stereotypes. They are much more than that," said Vainieri Huttle. "If we're going to ask people to be mindful of how they treat each other, then we have to make sure that our own laws are clear of words that are disparaging."

The bill was approved 76-0 by the Assembly in December. It now goes to the governor.
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