Governor Cuomo and NY Legislature Reach Agreement on Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs
Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature reached an agreement late on Sunday, June 17, that is expected to lead to the creation of the Governor’s proposed Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs (“Justice Center”). The bill, S. 7749/A.10721, will be brought to the Assembly for a vote on Wednesday, June 20.
Governor Cuomo proposed the creation of the Justice Center in May. The bill, sponsored by Senators McDonald, Alesi, and Golden, passed easily in the Senate; since then, Speaker Sheldon Silver and others raised questions about the independence of the Special Prosecutor operating within the Justice Center. Specifically, Speaker Silver suggested that a non-government entity should have some role in investigations of abuse.
A provision in the new bill seems to alleviate these concerns. The new bill requires the Governor to designate “an independent public or private agency” to provide “federal oversight of the state’s system of care for individuals with disabilities . . . and to assist such persons with accessing vocational rehabilitation services.” Proposed Article 20 of the Executive Law, § 558 (b)(i). This independent agency’s board members will be individuals with disabilities, or parents, family, guardians, advocates or authorized representatives of people with disabilities. Id. This new provision appears to work a compromise between the Governor and Speaker Silver—an independent agency will now have some oversight of state employees.
This new agency’s federal oversight notwithstanding, the Justice Center will have sweeping new powers, including the ability to review the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of mental hygiene programs. Proposed Article 20 of the Executive Law, § 553(26). The Justice Center will also have the power to review staffing patterns and supervision in facilities and provider agencies. Proposed Article 20 of the Executive Law, § 553(27).
Furthermore, the Justice Center has near-unfettered access to the books, records, and data pertaining to covered facilities. Proposed Article 20 of the Executive Law, § 558 (“The Justice Center must be granted access at any and all times to any facility or provider agency as defined . . . and, consistent with federal law, to all books, records, and data pertaining to any such facility or provider agency deemed necessary for carrying out the Justice Center’s functions, powers and duties.”).
A Medical Review Board will also be part of the new Justice Center—it will have the power to make preliminary determinations about whether deaths in covered facilities resulted from “other than natural causes.” Proposed Article 20 of the Executive Law, § 556(A). This Review Board will have the ability to order an autopsy and conduct an investigation in these cases. Proposed Article 20 of the Executive Law, § 556(B), (C), (D).
Bill S. 7749/A.10721 may be found here: http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7749-2011
The Governor’s Press Release on the agreement may be found here: http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/061712justice4specialneedsagreement
For criticisms of the earlier version of the bill, see: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Silver-Tinkers-ahead-for-bill-3575193.php
This post was contributed by Caitlin Monjeau.