Advocates Vow To Continue Push For 'Matthew's Law'
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 23, 2003
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY--Supporters of "Matthew's Law" say they are not ready to give up their fight after a legislative committee did a "bait and switch" on the important human rights bill last week.
Last Thursday, a state Senate and General Assembly committee was to hold public hearings on "Matthew's Law Limiting The Use of Restraints", otherwise known as Assembly Bill No. 2855, which Assemblymen Eric Munoz and Guy Gregg introduced last October.
The law was named for Matthew Goodman, a 14-year-old with autism who died last February following several months of mechanical and chemical restraints in a New Jersey residential facility. The bill would have strongly limited the use of restraints and other aversive practices on adults and children with developmental disabilities and brain injuries to emergency situations only. It had been drafted with substantial input from parents and other advocates concerned about the number of injuries and deaths related to the use and overuse of such restraints in facilities around the state.
It would have applied to all privately and publicly-funded facilities.
One of those testifying was Janice Roach, Matthew's mother. Another was Rick Tallman, a Trenton resident whose 12-year-old son, Jason, died just two days after being placed at a Pennsylvania residential treatment facility in May 1993.
Others included representatives from disability-related organizations such as The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities of the Robert Woods Johnson Medical School, New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey, The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey (SPAN), New Jersey TASH, and The Family Alliance to Stop Abuse and Neglect.
But when the advocates arrived to testify, they learned that A2855 had been substituted -- just two days earlier -- with A2849, a "compromise bill" that looked nothing like the original. The bill would change very little, according to those who had supported the original measure.
After seven hours of heart-wrenching testimony the committee went ahead and passed the compromise bill. Then sponsors of the compromise measure offered to name it "Matthew's Law".
Roach turned down the offer. In a statement released Wednesday, Roach said she would not lend her son's name to a bill that she believes would "perpetuate the suffering he endured."
Following the committee's vote, Assemblymen Munoz and Gregg demanded that their names be removed from A2849.
"The die was already cast, the decision pre-determined, the hearing just for show," said Diana Autin, Executive Co-Director for SPAN of New Jersey. "We stand with thousands of parents, advocates, and children, youth, and adults with disabilities today in expressing our disappointment in the Committee substitute bill allowing the continued use of restraints and aversives in New Jersey's public and private institutions."
"But we will not mourn, we will organize!" Autin added. "And Matthew's Law will become law."
Roach is determined to make sure no more children die the way her son did.
"Then Matthew's death will not be in vain," said Roach. "We parents will never give up until Matthew's Law is passed."
Pass Matthew's Law
Text of Assembly Bill No. 2855, "Matthew's Law" (State of New Jersey Legislature)
Rick Tallman's Testimony from January 16, 2003
Matthew's Law & Bancroft School (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)