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Sweeney-Girgenti Bill Establishing Registry For Offenders Against People With Developmental Disabilities Approved By Assembly

TRENTON – A bill to establish in the Department of Human Services a central registry of caregivers who have committed offenses against people with developmental disabilities was approved 76-0 today by the Assembly.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem) and Sen. John Girgenti (D-Passaic), the bill (S2516/A3673) would create a central registry that would include any caregivers against whom allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation had been substantiated. Anyone listed in the registry would be prohibited from working in a facility or program of the Division of Developmental Disabilities or any facility or program licensed, contracted or regulated by the department.

Sen. Sweeney noted the bill is strongly supported by The Arc of New Jersey, an advocacy group for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Creating an abuse registry will reduce acts of violence against some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Sen. Sweeney said. “According to a study The Arc provided to us, a person with a developmental disability has a 90 percent chance of being sexually abused at some point in their life. The same study found only 3 percent of those cases will ever be reported.”

Sen. Girgenti said the bill addresses all types of abuse against people with developmental disabilities.

“The bill defines ‘abuse’ as a caregiver inflicting physical, sexual, verbal or psychological abuse upon a person with a developmental disability,” Sen. Girgenti said. “It would also include cases where a caregiver allowed someone else to inflict abuse on an individual.”

For inclusion on the central registry in the case of a substantiated incident of abuse, the caregiver must, with intent, recklessness, or careless disregard, have acted so as to have caused or potentially caused injury to an individual with a developmental disability.

The bill would require the commissioner to maintain a Special Response Unit (SRU) to investigate serious unusual incidents. The SRU would be responsible for investigating an allegation of abuse, neglect, or exploitation to determine the truth of the allegations.

“The Special Response Unit would be required to make a good faith effort to notify the caregiver of the possibility of his or her inclusion on the registry and to provide an opportunity to respond to the department concerning the allegation,” Sen. Sweeney said. “If the SRU substantiates the allegations against a caregiver, it would forward a report of the incident to the Commissioner of Human Services for inclusion of the offending caregiver on the central registry. The commissioner’s determination would be considered a final agency decision.”

The bill provides for confidentiality of all records of a reported incident, information obtained by DHS in investigating these reports, and all reports of findings forwarded to the central registry.

“Information in the central registry would not be considered a public or government record,” Sen. Girgenti said. “The bill permits the disclosure of information only under circumstances expressly authorized by rules and regulations adopted by the commissioner. DHS would be authorized to disclose only information that is relevant to the purpose for which the information is required.”

The bill would require a person employed or volunteering in a program or facility licensed by the department who had reasonable cause to believe someone had been abused to immediately report the incident to the department. Any person who made a report pursuant to the bill’s provisions would have immunity from civil and criminal liability. The bill also would prohibit retaliation against person who in good faith made a report.

The bill would require the commissioner to report to the Governor and Legislature two years after the bill’s enactment after reviewing the effectiveness of the registry.

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