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N.J. bill that seeks to improve lives of developmentally disabled passes legislature

pizzurosal073111_optBY SALVATORE PIZZURO
COMMENTARY

The New Jersey State Legislature has completed it work in creating a bill that will ensure that people with developmental disabilities and their families will be informed about appropriate State services that are available to them.

Last year, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (Democrat, District 37), along with Assembly members Upenda Chivukula (Democrat, District 17) and Ruben J. Ramos, Jr. (Democrat, District 33) introduced A-2878, which was passed last June 77-0 in the lower House. On December 15, 2011, the Senate passed the comparable bill, S-2028, by a vote of 37-0. Senate sponsors were Robert Gordon (Democrat-District 38), Linda Greenstein (Democrat- District 14), and Jennifer Beck (Republican – District 12). The fact that the bill received bi-partisan support, with Republican Senator Beck serving as one of the primary sponsors alongside her Democratic counterparts, has not gone unnoticed by the disability community.

The bill requires the Department of Human Services “to collect and disseminate data about persons with developmental disabilities”.

According to the current language of the bill, “Reliable and current data about the service needs of persons with developmental disabilities who are eligible for services from the Division of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services is fundamental to the division's ability to plan effectively to meet those needs”

Assemblywoman Huttle has stated that "New Jersey provides some absolutely wonderful support and quality of life improvement services for individuals with developmental disabilities … Unfortunately, we're not that wonderful at informing residents about these programs. This bill would change that.”

The Legislation requires the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) to create a database of New Jerseyans with such disabling conditions with information on “The individual's status on any waiting lists; The best way for an individual to update their vital statistics; and Information about where to find services.”

A report will be published annually and posted on-line. The bill, which will go to Governor Christie’s desk for signature, will also require the DDD to engage in a periodic re-assessment of the needs of people with developmental disabilities.

Assemblywoman Huttle and Senator Beck, in particular, have remained committed to meeting the needs of this vulnerable group of New Jersey citizens. Unless continued budget constraints interfere, the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities and their families will hopefully continue to improve.

Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.

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