Our latest guest blog comes from Ric Swierat, Executive Director at Arc of Westchester
At the close of the NYS legislative session last week, the Assembly and Senate concurred on the Governor’s bill to create the Justice Center to protect people with special needs and disabilities. This bill was introduced by Governor Cuomo in May with great fanfare. While we all applauded Governor Cuomo’s intent, the original bill did not deal with a number of complications which have now been resolved. The legislature and Governor agreed to additional amendments to strengthen the bill and make it more practical.
For those who may not know what the legislation does, it creates a new Justice Center that will track and prevent, as well as investigate and prosecute, reports of abuse and neglect. Independent from the six human service agencies impacted, the Justice Center will be led by an executive director, special prosecutor, and inspector general, and have a staff of trained investigators, attorneys, and administrators to investigate reports of abuse and neglect and prosecute allegations of criminal offenses. It also:
- Creates of a statewide 24/7 hotline staffed by trained professionals to ensure that allegations of abuse are promptly reported to law enforcement and fully and effectively investigated.
- Establishes a comprehensive statewide database to track and monitor abuse complaints in order to spot trends.
- Develops a registry of workers who have committed serious or repeated acts of abuse who will be prohibited from ever being hired again in any position where they would work with people with special needs and disabilities.
- Consolidates background checks on individuals applying for a job or other position dealing with people with special needs and disabilities across certain state agencies.
- Develops common standards for investigations and requirements to be used to train investigators.
- Strengthens anti-abuse laws, including enhanced criminal penalties for endangering the welfare of people with special needs and disabilities, and a stronger ability for prosecutors to prove cases of sexual abuse.
This legislation is slated to take full effect in mid 2013.
This is indeed a great step forward for all those vulnerable people who are receiving services in New York. We applaud the governor and legislature for this initiative to protect and value the lives of people with disabilities who receive services in New York State.
Richard P. Swierat
Arc of Westchester seeks to empower children and adults with developmental disabilties to achieve their potential based on personal choices, abilities and interests. To visit Arc of Westchester’s website, visit www.westchesterarc.org.
For more information about special education advocacy, special needs planning, guardianships and transition visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com..