I’ve written several times about the deplorable conditions in the Texas state schools for the disabled. Now the Dallas Morning News reports that Governor Rick Perry will declare protection of residents in state schools for the disabled a legislative emergency, a move that follows reports of widespread abuse and neglect and a broad federal investigation into conditions at the facilities. Here are excerpts from the article:
Legislation to overhaul security at the 12 state schools, expected to be filed today, would establish an independent, governor-appointed ombudsman to investigate injuries and deaths and to monitor care.The bill, written by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, will also require fingerprinting, background checks and random drug testing of all state school employees. And it will set aside a specific facility for alleged offenders committed to state care by the courts.
This measure will not address advocates’ growing calls to close or consolidate the state schools. Jay Kimbrough, Perry’s chief of staff, said lawmakers can debate that idea on their own. Separately, the Legislature might consider an increase in funding to improve staffing.
But the emergency designation denotes a high priority of the governor and allows the legislation to be considered immediately.
“These are vulnerable people who have suffered,” said Kimbrough, who helped orchestrate the legislation. “In the short term, surely we can enhance oversight, safety and patient care, and then they can have that protracted debate.”
The bill is modeled after a sweeping Texas Youth Commission bill enacted two years ago, after a sexual abuse scandal at that agency. Lawmakers generally believe that overhaul was a successful triage, though they’re still pondering the TYC’s future size and scope.
Details of a proposed overhaul of security in state schools for the mentally disabled:
- Create an independent, governor-appointed ombudsman to investigate injuries and deaths in state schools
- Require fingerprinting, background checks and random drug testing of all state school employees
- Set aside a specific facility for alleged offenders committed to state care by the courts
- Require the new ombudsman to perform audits on each state school twice a year
- Create an abuse-and-neglect telephone hotline specifically for state schools
- Require an outside review of all deaths in state schools
- Change the term “state school” to “state developmental center,” and the term “superintendent” to “director”