State Senator Jennifer Beck is the primary sponsor of “Tara’s Law,” a bill designed to protect people with developmental disabilities from physical abuse and neglect in State facilities, foster homes, group homes, and nursing homes in New Jersey. Beck, who has served in the State Legislature since 2006, was motivated to introduce the bill as a result of a tragic episode leading to the death of a patient in a residential facility.
Beck was elected to the State Assembly via the 2005 election. She won a bid to become a State Senator in 2007. Since then, she has relentlessly addressed an issue that many New Jerseyans choose to ignore.
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, residential facilities:
“….are profit-driven businesses and during tough economic times good business practice and quality control can suffer in favor of short-sighted profits, quotas, and corner cutting. Businesses in trouble do not generally announce this; rather, they simply cover their tracks as best as they can. Cutbacks in hours and wages have a great impact on employee attitudes, which can easily translate to mistreatment, neglect, and even abuse……”
Beck holds a B.A. from Boston College (Physics and Mathematics) and an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania (Government Administration). In addition, she is an alumna of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.
This past June, S-1947, or “Tara’s Law” was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens. Senator Beck’s involvement in this bill was in reaction to the abuse and neglect leading to the death of Tara O’Leary, a 29-year-old woman with developmental disabilities. O’Leary weighed only 43 pounds when she died in a facility in 2008.
According to Senator Beck:
“Although no legislation can bring Tara back to her family that fought so hard to be a part of her life, …. I hope that the advancement of this bill may be of some consolation to her family, and of some comfort to families who currently have loved ones in community care residences. As a society we are judged by how we treat those who are most vulnerable, and it is unacceptable to neglect and abuse individuals who cannot protect themselves. This bill ensures a level of protection and oversight that is necessary to ensure the safe treatment of New Jersey’s developmentally disabled population.”
The Assembly version of Tara’s Law, A-2966, was introduced by Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle; it is hoped that it will be posted for a hearing with the Assembly Human Services Committee, which Huttle chairs.
The abuse and neglect of individuals with developmental disabilities is an often ignored phenomenon. It has been suggested by experts in the field that most cases are not reported because the victims are unable to complain because of their disability. Nevertheless, Senator Beck is committed to ending such abuse in New Jersey.
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.