ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York can no longer prohibit families from using reports that their disabled relatives were abused in state facilities under a new law that one parent said will end intimidation of suffering families.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed the law that seeks to correct what stressed and grieving families have long complained about when attempting to deal with abuse and neglect of their disabled children and other relatives in state facilities.
Since 2007 under the reform act known as Jonathan's Law, state reports of abuse and neglect were provided to families. But they were stamped "confidential — do not disclose." That hindered families from pursuing abuse cases involving their loved ones through legal action and even to refer the case to law enforcement. Families saw that as an obstacle to removing repeat offenders.
"This type of secrecy is never good public policy," said Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Island Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. He recently settled a federal lawsuit alleging his disabled son Ricky, now 55, was hit and verbally abused at a Long Island group home.
"It became personal," Weisenberg said in an interview.
The new law was prompted in part by a series of New York Times articles that exposed allegations of widespread abuse in state facilities and what the state acknowledges was an unacceptable lack of referrals to law enforcement.
"This bill is extremely important in ending attempts by New York state and private providers from intimidating parents and legal guardians from even going to the police or an attorney with documents and that abuse or a crime was committed against their disabled loved ones," said Michael Carey. His son, Jonathan, died in state care and Jonathan's Law is named for him.
The bill's many sponsors, including Sen. David Carlucci, who represents parts of Rockland and Westchester counties, stated the law "will best protect the individual and provide for swift justice of crimes against this vulnerable population," according to the bill's memo.
The law states the confidentiality provision was "interpreted inconsistently" and was "at odds with the legislative intent" of Jonathan's Law.
In 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders said they agreed on a sweeping reform to care for the estimated 1 million disabled New Yorkers in state care.
Federal officials in 2011 faulted the state Commission on Quality of Care & Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities for a lack of independence from the state agencies it oversees. Cuomo said there were more than 10,000 allegations of abuse against disabled New Yorkers in state-funded facilities in 2011.
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