Texas Enacts State School Reform Law

Published: June 14, 2009

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill (SB) 643 June 11, which enacts emergency reforms for Texas’ state supported living centers (SSLC), formerly known as state schools, and provides more oversight and protection for the residents of the centers and those in community-based services. The insititutions for the mentally disabled have been accused of widespread abuse and neglect, and the governor declared reforms to the state school system an emergency legislative item in February.

SB 643 enacts several protective measures for residents, including: establishing the Office of Independent Ombudsman and a new assistant commissioner who will oversee all state supported living center operations; enhancing abuse and neglect investigations by notifying and including the Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General in criminal investigations; creating a hotline number that is linked to the SSLC Ombudsman’s office to report allegations of misconduct; requiring video surveillance cameras in all common areas to prevent, deter and detect abuse and neglect; and requiring FBI fingerprint background checks and random drug testing on employees.

Additionally, the law increases penalties for employees who abuse or neglect residents, or fail to report abuse or neglect. It also requires the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) to contract with an independent patient safety organization to conduct mortality assessments to determine if deaths could have been prevented. The bill will help ensure that the facilities are in compliance with the recent U.S. Department of Justice settlement agreement.

SB 643 renames the state schools to SSLCs to more accurately depict the residential care services provided to residents.  The bill also designates the Mexia State School as the forensic SSLC to house high-risk, court committed individuals.

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