Office of the Governor Rick Perry

Gov. Perry Signs Bill to Enact Emergency Reforms in State Schools

SB 643 provides more oversight, protection for residents
Thursday, June 11, 2009  •  Austin, Texas  •  Press Release

Gov. Rick Perry today signed Senate Bill (SB) 643, which enacts emergency reforms for Texas’ state supported living centers (SSLC), formerly known as state schools, and provides more oversight and protection for the residents of the centers and those in community-based services. The governor declared reforms to the state school system an emergency legislative item in February.

“Whether these Texans live in a state facility or in therapeutic community settings, we are obligated by basic human decency to provide them with a safe setting in which to live, learn and grow,” Gov. Perry said. “SB 643 improves oversight of the state school population with everything from increased penalties for wrongdoing, to increased use of monitoring technology in our facilities.”

SB 643 enacts several protective measures for residents, including: establishing the Office of Independent Ombudsman and a new assistant commissioner who will oversee all state supported living center operations; enhancing abuse and neglect investigations by notifying and including the Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General in criminal investigations; creating a hotline number that is linked to the SSLC Ombudsman’s office to report allegations of misconduct; requiring video surveillance cameras in all common areas to prevent, deter and detect abuse and neglect; and requiring FBI fingerprint background checks and random drug testing on employees. 

“I was sad and angry to learn of the abuse and neglect that has occurred in many of our 13 state schools.  Texans with developmental disabilities should be treated with dignity and respect, and deserve our protection, oversight and compassion,” Sen. Jane Nelson said. “I am grateful that the Legislature approved this bill, which I firmly believe will improve the lives of Texans with disabilities and ensure they receive proper care.”

Additionally, SB 643 increases penalties for employees who abuse or neglect residents, or fail to report abuse or neglect. It also requires the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) to contract with an independent patient safety organization to conduct mortality assessments to determine if deaths could have been prevented. The bill will help ensure that the facilities are in compliance with the recent U.S. Department of Justice settlement agreement. 

“Texas is making much progress today to protect its most vulnerable citizens. With the signing of this legislation, allegations of neglect will be investigated thoroughly, promptly and proactively in both state supported living centers and community based settings,” Rep. Patrick Rose said. “We are sending a clear message that abuse, neglect and exploitation of Texans with intellectual disabilities won't be tolerated in our state.” 

SB 643 renames the state schools to SSLCs to more accurately depict the residential care services provided to residents.  The bill also designates the Mexia State School as the forensic SSLC to house high-risk, court committed individuals.

The governor was joined by bill authors Sen. Nelson and Rep. Rose, and DADS Commissioner Addie Horn for the signing.

For more details about this bill, visit http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=SB643.

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