Vainieri Huttle, Cryan, Wimberly, Coutinho & Lampitt Bill to Remove Offensive Language Used in State Statutes to Refer to Individuals with Mental Health Conditions Now Law

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Cryan, Benjie Wimberly, Albert Coutinho and Pamela Lampitt to rid state statutes of archaic and derogatory language used to describe people with developmental, cognitive or psychiatric disabilities has been signed into law.

"Words hurt and can inflict great pain. At one point these terms may have been acceptable, but they are not today," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "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 law (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, are replaced with more respectful language. The replacement of these derogatory terms does not change the meaning of the various sections of the law amended by the bill.

The law 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 law uses "first-person language" when referring to persons with mental incapacity in order to emphasize a person's value, individuality, dignity, and capabilities. The law also uses gender-neutral terms in most instances, updates names of agencies and eliminates anachronistic language.

Further, the law repeals the following statutes which were 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  • R.S.30:9-1.1, concerning the issuance of bonds for county psychiatric hospitals, which has been superseded by the "Local Bond Law," P.L.1960, c.169 (40A-2.1 et seq.);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 law 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 Cryan (D-Union). "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."

"Respectful language is the right thing to do," said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). "We need to be sure everyone is treated equally, even when it comes to the wording we use in our laws."

"Pejorative language toward those with disabilities is disrespectful and cruel," said Coutinho (D-Essex). "We can do better, and with this new law, we take a step toward doing so."

"The wording in these outdated laws is hurtful and unnecessary," said Lampitt (D-Camden). "This law makes clear to everyone that respectful language is a must."
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