BIPARTISAN BILL TO END ‘RETURN HOME’ POLICY GOES TO GOVERNOR

Senator Bob Gordon hears testimony during the Senate Environment Committee.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon, Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. to end the state’s ‘Return Home’ policy received final approval today in the Assembly. Under the legislation (S3117), stemming from an agreement reached in July between legislators and the Christie Administration, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities will be prohibited from transferring an individual with a developmental disability currently residing out of state to a placement in New Jersey if the individual or his or her guardian objects in writing.

“We heard from hundreds of families affected by the Return Home program who showed us how disruptive this policy has been to their lives. It was clear we needed to change course. Our goal was always to ensure that families and their loved ones continue to have appropriate care that meets their unique needs, and that is what this legislation does,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This will end the practice of bringing individuals who are receiving care out of state back to New Jersey without their approval. This is a more compassionate approach that will allow families to determine the best options for their loved ones without the fear or pressure that the old policy created. Importantly, it will give them the ability to keep their loved one in an out-of-state facility if that is their preference.”

“Throughout this process I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories from many families concerned about the disruption and change in the level of care that will occur if their loved ones who had spent the majority of their life at one facility were suddenly uprooted and moved back to New Jersey,” said Senator Bateman (R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer).  “This legislation recognizes those concerns by giving families and guardians the option to determine what’s best for the treatment of their loved one.”

“This bill respects the families of out-of-state residents to make the best decisions for their loved ones,” said Senator Sweeney. “They shouldn’t be forced to return to New Jersey if it isn’t what’s best for their care. The disruption can be harmful to their health and wellbeing. Parents and guardians know what’s best and they shouldn’t be told what to do by the state. They need to know that their loved ones will be cared for in the right way.”

“This legislation makes sure families have the ability to provide what is best for the health, safety and stability of their loved one,” said Senator Kean (R-Morris, Somerset, Union).  “The flexibility provided to family members and guardians in this legislation along with the appropriate level of oversight maintained by the state creates the best path forward in ensuring the highest level of care and comfort is provided in each and every case.”

Due to New Jersey’s inability to meet the needs of certain individuals with developmental disabilities, several hundred residents have been placed in out-of-state facilities over the course of decades in order to receive the services they required. In 2009, the DDD began the “Return Home New Jersey” initiative, which was designed to transfer individuals to community-based placements in New Jersey. The DDD stated they were pursuing federal matching funds that are not available for many out-of-state clients.  More than 300 residents remained out of state as of July.

Senator Gordon was the sponsor of legislation to impose a moratorium on the state’s ‘Return Home’ policy. The bill passed both houses and was vetoed by the governor; however, the override attempt fell short by one vote.

The new legislation, S3117, agreed upon by the administration and the bill sponsors, will protect individuals with developmental disabilities in out-of-state placements from being transferred back to New Jersey without their or their guardian’s approval. The legislation provides very narrow exceptions. It would allow the transfer of an individual to a New Jersey placement: if the facility, client or guardian does not comply with certain state or federal requirements, including those related to the health and safety of the client; or if an individual changes providers after the effective date of the law. The provision concerning a change in provider would not apply, however, if the change is due to corporate or other organizational restructuring, or if the DDD is unable to provide the individual with equivalent necessary services and supports in state.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 34-0; the Assembly approved it 79-0. In July, the Christie Administration agreed to implement the change administratively.