Weisenberg’s Efforts to Curb Abuse of Disabled at State Homes Closer to Becoming Law

January 18, 2012
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) announced today the Assembly has passed a necessary amendment to his legislation that requires the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to provide group homes and institutions with the criminal histories of prospective employees (A.8693). This change will ensure that OPWDD has the adequate amount of time needed to properly create the ‘prior-abuse notification system’ required by Weisenberg’s legislation.

“My son, who is developmentally disabled, experienced both verbal and physical abuse at a group home. No one should ever endure that kind of mistreatment, especially our most vulnerable New Yorkers.” Weisenberg said. “This change provides the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities the time they need to properly create the system.”

Weisenberg’s legislation, which unanimously passed both houses of the Legislature in 2011, would allow OPWDD providers to request information from the agency on the criminal histories of job applicants and volunteers, in addition to any reports filed against them for abuse or neglect of an individual with developmental disabilities. Prospective employees would have the right to access and respond to these reports.

The New York Times recently published a series of articles on the abuse of people with developmental disabilities at state-run institutions. In response, the Assembly held a series of statewide public hearings to review policies on group homes and explore safety measures to protect residents of these facilities.

“Giving facilities access to this information will help prevent individuals with disabilities from being put in the care of those with a history of abuse,” Weisenberg said. “It was a pleasure to have worked with the Governor in order to implement meaningful protections.”

Last year, Weisenberg sponsored two other laws aimed at improving safety at New York’s OPWDD facilities. These laws include requiring immediate reporting of violent crimes that occur at mental hygiene facilities (Ch. 558 of 2011) and ensuring that abuse and neglect investigations involving an employee continue whether or not the employee resigns their position (Ch. 588 of 2011).

Assemblyman Weisenberg has been a leading voice for people with developmental disabilities in New York State. He authored Jonathan’s Law, which gives parents access to reports of abuse or other incidents involving their children in a mental hygiene facility. The law was named after Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old with autism who died in the care of an OPWDD facility.