From Tragic Death, a Law to Safeguard People with Developmental Disabilities

After nearly five years of citizen advocacy and legislative review, New Jersey is one step away from mandating greater state oversight and transparency at myriad independent programs that serve tens of thousands of adults with serious developmental disabilities.

The state Senate cast the final vote Monday with unanimous support for legislation designed to better protect these vulnerable people in residential facilities and day programs; to ensure family members are informed of problems that develop; and to increase the penalties for front-line workers who harm disabled individuals in their care. Among other things, the bill requires state officials to conduct two site visits a year and forces program operators to report physical abuse to guardians within an hour.

The proposal, known as “Stephen Komninos Law,” is named for a 22-year-old man with intellectual disabilities who choked to death in 2007 when his caregiver at a residential facility left him unattended, against doctors orders. It passed the Assembly in December with full support and now awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature to become law; his office has a policy of not commenting on pending legislation.

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