NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Mary Zingaro listened attentively on Thursday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement of new legislation that the governor's office said would establish the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting people with special needs and disabilities.
Zingaro’s son, Joe, lives in a facility for the developmentally disabled in Westchester. “They’re going to investigate,” said Zingaro. “I’m hoping that this will ... stop the abuse we have in houses,” she said.
Cuomo’s proposed legislation, announced in the College of New Rochelle's Maura Hall, would create a Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, to improve how the state protects more than one million New Yorkers in state-operated, -certified, or -licensed facilities, and programs. If the bill is not passed by the state Legislature before it goes into recess in seven weeks, Cuomo's office said, it would have to be brought back when legislators return in January.
The center would have a special prosecutor, and a person who investigates reports of abuse and neglect. The center would also prosecute allegations that elevate to criminal offenses, Cuomo's office said. A 24/7 hotline would also be run by trained professionals. A statewide database would also track all reports of abuse and neglect and there would be a statewide register of workers who have committed serious acts of abuse.
“The governor’s proposed legislation is the strongest, and most comprehensive plan in the country for preventing abuse and neglect before it happens, and for responding to reported incidents,” said Clarence Sundram, Cuomo’s special adviser on vulnerable persons.
“It covers five of the state’s health and human services agencies, as well as the state Education Department, and sets forth a clear consistent set of standards to guide the behavior of employees in all systems. It provides a simple system for reporting allegations, and a consistent response by trained investigators to all reports,” he said.
"The governor’s proposed legislation," he added, "will affect over one million New Yorkers and their families. The legislature should take swift action to enact this bill into law.”
Cuomo said in his announcement that most employees who work in special needs houses are good ones, but said that there needs to be a process for handling, preventing, and reporting cases of abuse.