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Fine Print: Bill Would Reverse Developmental Center Closures

Proposal would create new task force that would take into account travel distance if facilities were to close.

What it is: A new bill, S-2596, would reverse the decision by a state task force last year to close the Woodbridge Development Center and North Jersey Development Center in Totowa, two large residential institutions that serve . The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee released the bill yesterday in a 7-2 vote, with one abstention.

What it means: A new task would start from scratch in making recommendations on how to respond to the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Olmstead case. The court required that residents with developmental disabilities live in the least restrictive appropriate setting. Unlike an earlier task force, this body would include members recommended by groups for and against closing centers. It would also be required to consider the distance that family members would travel if centers were closed. Bill sponsors said the state could reduce the number of residents who live in the developmental centers without closing any centers.

What prompted it: After state officials considered closing Vineland Developmental Center, the previous state task force decided to instead close the only two centers that are near the heavily populated northeastern region of the state. This prompted an outcry from family members of profoundly disabled center residents. The family members said the state-operated centers provide a higher level of care than the residents would receive in privately operated group homes (

Who opposes it: Group-home operators, who said that reopening the task force decisions would be unnecessary. Also opposed are more moderately disabled residents and their families. They contend that community providers can provide the same level of care as the developmental centers, a point disputed by families of center residents.

The next step: The Assembly would have to advance its own version of the bill, which was heavily revised yesterday to focus on repealing the original task force’s decisions and creating a new task force. The original version would have required that a developmental center remain open in the northeast part of the state.

Christie’s decision: Gov. Chris Christie supported the original task force and spoke in his February 26 budget address about his support of increased funding for community placement in settings like group homes. While it may prove to be a tall task for bill supporters to successfully lobby the administration, they plan to make the case that Christie should support both keeping the centers open and providing more funding for community placements. This possibility will be complicated by limits on the amount of Medicaid funding the state receives to treat residents with developmental disabilities.

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