VAN DREW: BILL GIVE'S VINELAND DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER NEW LIFE : News Room : The Van Drew Team for Change : Jeff Van Drew, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land
VAN DREW: BILL GIVE’S VINELAND DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER NEW LIFE
VINELAND — The future of the city’s developmental center looked grim after Gov. Chris Christie signed a budget in June calling to shutter the facility by 2013.
But now, for the first time in months, good news about the Vineland Developmental Center surfaced in Trenton on Tuesday. It has a second chance.
Christie conditionally vetoed bill S-2928, which Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-1, sponsored, to create a task force that will comprehensively review all seven state developmental centers. The governor’s action means he would approve the legislation, but called for some changes to improve it.
“It is a lifeline,” Van Drew said. “It is a second chance for the developmental center. Now it will undergo an evaluation process, as will the other six in New Jersey, of its ability to stay open.”
Christie, in the conditional veto, wrote that his administration is committed to reducing the number of developmental centers and using the remaining centers primarily to provide specialty services.
He made recommendations to edit the bill so it better aligns with the state’s efforts to comply with the Olmstead decision, a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The state, Christie wrote, simply operates more developmental centers than it needs. Since 1998, the population has dropped by about 1,200 individuals, or 33 percent, he noted.
In his recommendations, Christie called to clarify the criteria the task force uses to make its decisions.
Christie’s changes set a 90- to 180-day timeline for the task force to submit a closure plan to the governor and cuts the task force from 11 to five members, three of which he would appoint and two of which would come at the recommendations of each the senate president and assembly speaker.
Also, he wants the task force to consider a community’s capacity to provide or develop specialized services and the time frame needed to develop those services and give those criteria greater priority.
Christie’s conditional veto sends the bill back to lawmakers for approval. The changes were approved by the Senate, but still need another yes vote there and Assembly approval before it goes back to the governor to be signed.
On June 30, Christie signed a $29.687 billion state budget that called for the June 2013 closure of the Vineland Developmental Center. He promised then, however, to carefully review the bill before him that would create a task force to review all seven developmental centers.
The center’s supporters fear the economic ramifications of a closure and the future of the 350 women with developmental disabilities who call the Vineland facility home. The center employs about 1,400 people.
Christie said in his conditional veto, which the governor’s office released Thursday afternoon, any decision to close a developmental center is “first and foremost a civil rights issue and not a budgetary issue.”
“The decision affects many people and arouses strong emotions,” he said of a closure. “It is not a decision my administration takes lightly.”
The bill has the potential to delay the Vineland facility’s closure because it makes it part of a six-month review. It isn’t a guarantee that the Vineland Developmental Center will stay open, Van Drew said, adding, “but at least now we have a chance and we have a process.”
Based on the original draft, a call for closure would be based on various criteria, including the economic impact of the surrounding community, projected maintenance costs and the number of persons with developmental disabilities who require 24-hour supervision, have requested community placement or have interdisciplinary teams or families that recommend placement.
Van Drew said he is pleased to reach common ground and move forward.
“I think it accomplishes both goals,” he said. “The state absolutely wanted to put more people in the community and what we said was we don’t have an issue with that, but it has to be done in a fair way.”
He is encouraging the state Legislature to support the governor’s changes when it comes back before the Senate and Assembly next month.