Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, Tucker & McKnight Bill to Protect Children & Adults with Developmental Disabilities OK'd by Assembly Panel

Stephen Komninos' Law will put Measures in Place to Better Address Reports of Abuse and Neglect in State Licensed Facilities

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gabriela Mosquera, Cleopatra Tucker and Angela McKnight to better protect children and adults with development disabilities from potential abuse and neglect from caregivers was unanimously released Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bill (A-2503), known as "Stephen Komninos' Law," honors the memory of Stephen, 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.

"After suffering the tragic loss of their son, our goal is to prevent future tragedies," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This bill will institute a major overhaul to our system to put protections in place to help uncover any incidents of abuse or neglect before they end in tragedy and ensure that these incidents are addressed as swiftly as possible and those responsible are held accountable. Ultimately, our goal is to create an environment that does not tolerate abuse, neglect, or exploitation of individuals with developmental disabilities."

The bill helps protect and ensure accountability and transparency for adults and children with developmental disabilities through site visits, allowing a guardian or family member to attend or observe any investigation by DHS in cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation and by increasing the degrees of a certain crimes.

"Sadly, the people most in need of our help and compassion are often considered easy targets for abuse and maltreatment," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "The provisions in this bill will hopefully provide greater peace of mind for families by ensuring that facilities charged with helping their loved ones don't actually end up causing the most damage." 

"Under the bill, the Commissioner of Human Services would designate employees to conduct at least six unannounced site visits annually to randomly check whether the individuals with developmental disabilities who are receiving services from a state licensed program, living arrangement or facility are at risk of, or are being subjected to, abuse, neglect, or exploitation by a caregiver," said Tucker (D-Essex).

"DHS would be required to report incidents of abuse, neglect or exploitation to the guardian or authorized family member of an individual with a developmental disability as soon as possible, but no later than 60 minutes after the occurrence of the injury," said McKnight (D-Hudson).

Within 48 hours of receipt of a report of an incident involving physical injury, abuse or neglect in a program, facility, community care residence, or living arrangement licensed or funded by DHS for an individual with a developmental disability, the Commissioner would send an employee of DHS to the location of the reported incident to verify the level of severity of the incident.

DHS must maintain the reports and determine the severity of it within 48 hours, initiate appropriate responses through timely and appropriate investigative activities, alert appropriate staff and then ensure that findings are reported in a uniform and timely manner.

Upon receipt of the report, both DHS and the family member of the individual with developmental disabilities may involve local and state law enforcement officials.

Additionally, as a condition of employment as a direct care staff member at a program, facility, or living arrangement licensed or funded by DHS, all applicants are required to be drug tested at their expense at the time of application for employment. Random drug testing is required at least once annually and may occur at any time if there is reasonable suspicion by an immediate supervisor.  

DHS would also be required to adopt rules and regulations necessary to provide for an investigation of a reported incident and allegations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation which shall include: 

  • Providing an opportunity for a guardian or authorized family member to submit information to facilitate an investigation and to represent the individual and be informed of the progress of the investigation.  
  • A guardian would have the ability to request a progress report of the status of the investigation, including any medical records or reports about the individual, within seven calendar days and weekly thereafter.
  • A guardian of an individual with a developmental disability, upon request, may be permitted to attend or observe the investigation, unless the attendance or observation would impede the investigation.
  • A written summary of the conclusions of the investigation would be provided to the guardian or authorized family member of the individual with a developmental disability who is the subject of the alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

DHS would also be required to adopt rules and regulations that define the procedures and standards for inclusion of an offending caregiver on the central registry, and for notifying the guardian or authorized family member of the individual with a developmental disability who was the subject of the abuse, neglect, or exploitation that led to the caregiver's inclusion on the central registry. 

A case manager or case manager's supervisor in DHS who fails to report an act of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an individual with a developmental disability while having reasonable cause to believe that such an act has been committed, would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. If the abuse, neglect, or exploitation results in the death of an individual with a developmental disability, the case manager or case manager's supervisor would be guilty of a crime of the third degree.

Penalties collected under the law would be used for caregiver training and visits required under this bill.

The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.