Bill Text: NJ A5249 | 2020-2021 | Regular Session | Introduced


Bill Title: Renames Office of Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities creates position of deputy ombudsman, and expands duties of office to apply to all persons with disabilities and their families.

Spectrum: Partisan Bill (Democrat 1-0)

Status: (Introduced) 2021-01-12 - Introduced, Referred to Assembly Human Services Committee [A5249 Detail]

Download: New_Jersey-2020-A5249-Introduced.html

ASSEMBLY, No. 5249

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

219th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JANUARY 12, 2021

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman  JOANN DOWNEY

District 11 (Monmouth)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Renames Office of Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities, creates position of Deputy Ombudsman, and expands duties of office to apply to all persons with disabilities and their families.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning the purpose and name of the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families and supplementing and amending P.L.2017, c.269.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    Section 1 of P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.1) is amended to read as follows:

     1.    a.  (1)  There is established in but not of the Department of the Treasury the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and their Families.  For the purpose of complying with the provisions of Article V, Section IV, paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and their Families is hereby allocated within the Department of the Treasury, but notwithstanding this allocation, the office shall be independent of any supervision or control by the department or any board or officer thereof, or any other cabinet-level department, board, or officer thereof.  The purpose of the ombudsman is to serve as a resource to provide information and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families.

     (2)   On or after the effective date of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, established by this subsection, shall be entitled and known as the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families.  The revised and expanded purpose of the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families, and of the ombudsman thereof, shall be to serve as a resource for, and provide information and support to, all individuals with disabilities and their families.

     (3)   Whenever, in any law, rule, regulation, judicial or administrative proceeding, or otherwise, reference is made to the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families or to the ombudsman thereof, the same shall mean and refer, respectively, to the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families and the ombudsman thereof.

     b.    (1)  The Governor shall appoint an [Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and their Families] ombudsman, who shall be qualified by training and experience to perform the duties of the office.  The ombudsman shall be a person of recognized judgment, integrity, and objectivity, [and] shall be skilled in communication[,] and conflict resolution, and [professionalism] shall have personal or professional experience with individuals with disabilities and their families. 

     (2)   The ombudsman appointed pursuant to this subsection shall select and appoint a deputy ombudsman to support the ombudsman in the execution of the ombudsman's duties.  The deputy ombudsman shall be authorized to act in the ombudsman's stead and perform all relevant duties of the ombudsman in any case where:  (a) the ombudsman is unavailable, due to illness, disability, leave, or other absence; or (b) the ombudsman, in the ombudsman's sole discretion, determines that there is an appearance of impropriety or partiality or a conflict of interest that prevents the ombudsman from effectively discharging his or her duties in any particular matter.

     c.     The ombudsman shall hire sufficient professional and clerical staff and organize and direct the work of the office, including the work of such professional and clerical staff, as may be necessary to carry out the ombudsman's duties under P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented by P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).  All employees of the office shall serve at the pleasure of the ombudsman.  The ombudsman, or the deputy ombudsman acting in the ombudsman's stead, may delegate, to any employee of the office, any of the authorities, duties, or powers granted under P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented by P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), except for the delegation authority granted pursuant to this subsection or the reporting duties contained in section 3 of P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.3).

(cf: P.L.2017, c.269, s.1)

 

     2.    (New section)  As used in P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.1 et seq.):

     "Appropriate services" means any services, including, but not limited to, assessment, placement, treatment, support, planning, housing, employment, health care, or behavioral health care services, which are made available by a relevant department in the State to assist individuals with disabilities or the family members thereof.   

     "Individual with a disability" means an individual who has a temporary or permanent, partial or total physical or sensory disability, infirmity, malformation, or disfigurement caused by bodily injury, birth defect, or illness such as epilepsy or other seizure disorders.  "Individual with a disability" includes, but shall not be limited to, an individual who has any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, muteness or speech impairment, or physical reliance on a service or guide dog, wheelchair, or other remedial appliance or device, or any mental, psychological, or developmental disability or impairment, including autism spectrum disorder, which either results from anatomical, psychological, physiological, or neurological conditions preventing the typical exercise of any bodily or mental function or is demonstrable, medically or psychologically, by accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques. 

     "Relevant department" or "department" means the Department of Human Services, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Department of Education, the Department of Health, or any other executive department or agency that provides appropriate services to individuals with disabilities or their families through any office or division thereof. 

 

     3.    Section 2 of P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.2) is amended to read as follows:

     2.    a.  The duties of the Ombudsman for Individuals with [Intellectual or Developmental] Disabilities and their Families shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

     (1)   to serve as a source of information for all individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities and their families [and], as well as for other interested members of the public and members of the media, to help them better understand State and federal laws and regulations governing individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities;

     (2)   to provide, in coordination with the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, the State Centers of Independent Living, the State designated protection and advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities, and members of the State Legislature:

     (a)   information and [support] supports to individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities and their families, as may be necessary to assist them in identifying, navigating, and understanding the process for obtaining services and supports from, [the Division of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services and the Division of Children's System of Care in the Department of Children and Families] relevant departments in the State[, including information and support regarding individuals who transition from receiving services and supports from the Division of Children's System of Care to receiving services and supports from the Division of Developmental Disabilities]; and

     (b)   direct assistance to individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities [in obtaining from the Division of Children's System of Care or the Division of Developmental Disabilities], as may be necessary to ensure that such persons are able to obtain appropriate[,] services, supports, and opportunities that focus on their personal goals and that help those goals become a reality;

     (3)   to provide information and communication strategies to individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities and their families [for resolving a disagreement] in association with the resolution of disputes or disagreements with [the Division of Children's System of Care, the Division of Developmental Disabilities, the Division of Disabilities, Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing the Department of Children and Families, or the Department of Human Services] relevant departments regarding the evaluation, placement, or provision of services and supports to [an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability] such persons; and to educate individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities and their families on the available options for resolving such disputes and disagreements;

     (4)   to work neutrally and objectively with all parties to help ensure that a fair process is followed in the resolution of disputes and disagreements with relevant departments concerning the provision of services and supports to individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities [receiving services from the Division of Children's System of Care or the Division of Developmental Disabilities, as appropriate];

     (5)   to identify any patterns of complaints that emerge regarding the rights [and] of, or services [of] provided to, individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities, and [to] [recommend] provide suggestions to relevant departments recommending the revision of rules, regulations, policies, procedures, and protocols or the implementation of new and innovative methods or strategies [for improvement to the Division of Children's System of Care and the Division of Developmental Disabilities or the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Human Services] to better protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and ensure their improved access to, and timely receipt of, individualized and appropriate services; and

     (6)   to assist [the Division of Children's System of Care and the Division of Developmental Disabilities] relevant departments in creating public information programs that are designed to acquaint and educate individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities, as well as their [families,] family members and other members of the public, about the duties of the ombudsman.

     b.    The ombudsman, deputy ombudsman, and all other staff of the office shall [treat] maintain confidentiality with respect to any communications or records that are received [in the course of] by the office in effectuating the ombudsman's duties [, including].  The ombudsman, deputy ombudsman, and all other office staff shall not disclose personally identifiable information regarding individuals with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities [and], their families, [and others] or any other persons from whom information is acquired, [as confidential,] except when such disclosure is necessary to enable the ombudsman to perform the duties of the office and consent for the disclosure is obtained.  Upon receipt of information that by law is confidential or privileged, the ombudsman shall maintain the confidentiality of the information and shall not disclose or disseminate the information except as provided by applicable State or federal law.  Whenever confidential records are obtained from a relevant department, pursuant to paragraph (2) of subsection c. of this section, the ombudsman shall maintain the confidentiality of such records to the same extent as is required of the legal custodian of the records. 

     c.     In effectuating the duties required by this section, the ombudsman shall be authorized to:

     (1)   consult with other State ombudsman offices;

     (2)   receive complaints from individuals with disabilities and their family members; and

     (3)   solicit and obtain information from relevant departments, as may be necessary to facilitate the discharge of the ombudsman's duties hereunder, and examine, obtain, and copy any records maintained by a relevant department, including records that are deemed confidential under law, without being required to pay any fee therefor.  The department receiving a request from the ombudsman for information or records pursuant to this paragraph shall promptly provide the office with the information or records requested.

(cf: P.L.2017, c.269, s.2)

 

     4.    Section 3 of P.L.2017, c.269 (C.30:1AA-9.3) is amended to read as follows:

     3.    a.  The Ombudsman for Individuals with [Intellectual or Developmental] Disabilities and their Families shall annually issue a written report [annually] to the following persons: 

     (1)   the Governor and, pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), the Senate President, the Speaker of the General Assembly, and the Minority Leaders of the Senate and General Assembly;

     (2)   the Commissioner of Human Services [and], the Commissioner of Children and Families, and the head of any other relevant department; and

     (3)   the public, through publication of the report on the ombudsman's Internet website[The]

     b.    Each report issued under subsection a. of this section shall include a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year[,] and any specific recommendations the ombudsman deems appropriate and necessary concerning the State's implementation of procedures with respect to [providing] the provision of appropriate services and supports to [individuals] persons with [intellectual or developmental] disabilities [with services and supports] and their families.

     [b.  The ombudsman also shall issue the report prepared pursuant to subsection a. of this section to the Governor, and pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1) to the Legislature]

     c.  The date of release of each annual report issued pursuant to this section shall be set by the ombudsman; however, in no case shall the ombudsman allow more than 365 days to elapse between consecutive annual release dates.  The release of a report pursuant to this section, at least once per annum, shall be mandatory, and the ombudsman shall not be authorized to delay the issuance of an annual report beyond the mandatory timeframe provided by this subsection.  Special or interim reports may be issued, at any time, in the discretion of the ombudsman.

(cf: P.L.2017, c.269, s.3).

 

     5.    This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill would rename and expand the purpose and duties of the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families and the ombudsman thereof. 

     Specifically, the bill would rename the office as the Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families, and it would expand the purpose and duties of the office and the ombudsman to enable the office and ombudsman to provide services to all persons with disabilities and their families (instead of providing services only to those persons who have developmental disabilities and their families, as is provided by existing law).  "Person with a disability" is defined to mean any individual who has a temporary or permanent, partial or total physical or sensory disability, infirmity, malformation, or disfigurement caused by bodily injury, birth defect, or illness such as epilepsy or other seizure disorders, including, but not limited to, an individual who has any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, muteness or speech impairment, or physical reliance on a service or guide dog, wheelchair, or other remedial appliance or device, or who has any mental, psychological, or developmental disability or impairment, including autism spectrum disorder, which either results from anatomical, psychological, physiological, or neurological conditions preventing the typical exercise of any bodily or mental function or is demonstrable, medically or psychologically, by accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques. 

     Under the bill's provisions, the repurposed Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families, and the ombudsman thereof, will be required to provide information and other assistance to all persons with disabilities and their families with respect to the receipt of services from, and the resolution of disputes or disagreements occurring with, any relevant department in the State that provides services to persons with disabilities or their families.  The ombudsman will also be required to provide relevant information to members of the public and the media about the laws pertaining to individuals with disabilities and provide suggestions to relevant departments recommending the revision of rules, regulations, policies, procedures, and protocols or the implementation of new and innovative methods or strategies to better protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and ensure their improved access to, and timely receipt of, individualized and appropriate services in the State.

     The bill would provide for the ombudsman to select and appoint a deputy ombudsman to support the ombudsman in the execution of the office's duties.  The deputy ombudsman will be authorized to act in the ombudsman's stead and perform all relevant duties of the ombudsman in any case where:  1) the ombudsman is unavailable, due to illness, disability, leave, or other absence; or 2) the ombudsman, in the ombudsman's sole discretion, determines that there is an appearance of impropriety or partiality or a conflict of interest that prevents the ombudsman from effectively discharging his or her duties in any particular matter.

     The bill further requires the ombudsman to hire sufficient professional and clerical staff to effectuate the office's expanded purpose and duties.  All employees of the office would serve at the pleasure of the ombudsman.  The bill expressly authorizes the ombudsman, or the deputy ombudsman acting in the ombudsman's stead, to delegate the ombudsman's authorities, duties, or powers (except the power to delegate and the duty to engage in annual reporting) to any employee of the office.

     The bill clarifies that the ombudsman, deputy ombudsman, and all other staff of the office will be required to maintain confidentiality with respect to any communications or records received thereby in the course of the office's duties.  Moreover, the bill specifies that, whenever confidential records are obtained from a relevant department, the ombudsman will be required to maintain the confidentiality of such records to the same extent as is required of the legal custodian of the records. 

     In effectuating the expanded duties of the office, as provided by the bill, the ombudsman will be authorized to:

     1)    consult with other State ombudsman offices;

     2)    receive complaints from individuals with disabilities and their family members; and

     3)    solicit and obtain information from relevant departments and examine, obtain, and copy any records maintained by a relevant department, including records that are deemed confidential under law, without being required to pay any fee therefor.  Any department receiving a request from the ombudsman for information or records will be required to promptly provide the office with the information or records requested.

     The bill requires each annual report produced by the office to be issued to: 

     1)    the Governor, the Senate President, the Speaker of the General Assembly, and the Minority Leaders of the Senate and General Assembly;

     2)    the Commissioner of Human Services, the Commissioner of Children and Families, and the head of any other relevant department that provides services to individuals with disabilities or their families; and

     3)    the public, through publication of the report on the ombudsman's Internet website.

     The bill authorizes the ombudsman to establish the date of release of each annual report; however, it specifies that, in no case may the ombudsman allow more than 365 days to elapse between consecutive annual release dates.  The release of a report, at least once per annum, is mandatory under the bill's provisions, and the ombudsman will not be authorized to delay the issuance of an annual report beyond the mandatory timeframe provided by the bill.  The bill further provides, however, that special or interim reports may be issued by the office, at any time, in the ombudsman's discretion.

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