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Vulnerable deserve protection; Assembly needs to get behind law setting up Justice Center to fight abuse

It's hard to imagine why anyone would object to a law meant to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from those who would take advantage of them, but with less than a week left in the current legislative session, it is possible this important law won't pass.

The measure, produced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office, was unveiled in May and unanimously approved by the Senate. In the Assembly, it doesn't even have a sponsor. That's pathetic.

The bill would create a new Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs in an effort to discourage abuses of New Yorkers. Its aim, in part, is to concentrate oversight of various agencies in one location. It would investigate reports of abuse in nursing homes, group homes and other locations where people with disabilities are served, and are sometimes abused.

In advocating for the legislation, Cuomo's office notes that there were more than 10,000 allegations of abuse against New Yorkers with special needs and disabilities in state facilities and programs last year. In reaction to that appalling statistic, the state has laced together a consistent and comprehensive standard for tracking and investigating those complaints, and for punishing those who are guilty of abuse.

Thus, the new center would include a special prosecutor and inspector general and a staff of trained investigators and lawyers. The measure would create a 24-hour hot line to ensure that allegations are promptly reported to law enforcement. Common standards for investigations would be developed, as would a code of conduct for all employees, volunteers and consultants.

The legislation would also increase criminal penalties for endangering those with disabilities and special needs and improve the ability of prosecutors to make a case against violators.

People with disabilities and special needs require the help of society and also its protection. They are the most vulnerable to abuse and, while the vast majority of workers perform their tasks diligently and respectfully, it doesn't take more than one to harm a person who was relying on that worker's care, and to bring an agency into disrepute.

We're sure the good and honorable workers in institutions don't want to protect abusers in their midst, or want their loved one in need of care to be subjected to a system that leaves them exposed to abuse.

This measure would create the nation's strongest standards for protecting those most needing it, and it is gratifying that the Senate acted promptly and unanimously in passing the legislation. It is equally disconcerting that the Assembly has treated it with such disregard.

Some reports suggest that the Assembly is just trying to make improvement to the bill. But time is running out. It is better to have a law in place, and improve it later, than it is to have no law at all.

Some Democrat in the Assembly – preferably one from Western New York – should muster whatever kind of courage it takes to protect the vulnerable, and introduce this law. It is important and time is short.