For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.
Bill: House Bill (HB) 4531, relating to the rights and treatment of and services provided to certain adult sexual assault survivors.
Bill author: Rep. Victoria Neave, House District 107 (Dallas)
- Richard Peña Raymond, House District 42 (Laredo)
- Sergio Muñoz, Jr., House District 36 (Mission)
What does the bill do?
HB 4531 would authorize adults under guardianship to make decisions related to sexual assault crisis services, including:
- consenting to forensic medical examinations and treatment,
- authorizing the collection of forensic evidence,
- consenting to the release of evidence contained in collection kits and disclosure of related confidential information, and
- receiving counseling and other support services.
The bill would require health care facilities that perform forensic medical examinations and treatments to presume the competency of any adult sexual assault survivor requesting these services. Under the terms of the bill, this presumption would extend to adults under guardianship, and consent from the guardian would not be necessary as long as the adult understands the nature of the exam. The health care facility would only be permitted to obtain consent from a relative or guardian if the adult is deemed potentially incapable of consenting to treatment. HB 4531 would also protect the confidentiality of sexual assault survivors by limiting disclosure of the findings, particularly in cases where an individual’s relative or guardian is a suspect or accomplice in the sexual assault.
Statement from the bill author, Rep. Victoria Neave:
“There’s an epidemic of sexual abuse against (people with intellectual disabilities and elderly individuals). Many times these crimes go unnoticed, they go unpunished, and there’s Justice Department data on sex crimes that show that individuals with intellectual disabilities – both women and men – are victims of sexual assault at rates which are more than seven times those for people without disabilities … In 2018, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services received 190 allegations of sexual abuse from adults 65 and older, and these … are just the reported ones. ”
Where is the bill in the process?
On May 8, HB 4531 was passed by the Texas House on a vote of 148-0. It has now been sent to the Senate for consideration.
Who supports the bill and why?
The following comments were taken from the bill’s public hearing on April 8:
- Texas Advocates: James Meadours, Board President of Texas Advocates, testified that he supports HB 4531 because it prioritizes the affected individual’s voice and provides protections from potential retribution from suspects or accomplices in the assault. He referenced his personal experience with sexual assault and suggested that self-advocacy was vital in his case since his family members would not have supported his decision to receive a forensic exam. Meadours expressed great gratitude for the nurse who assisted him, and credits her help in empowering him to make his own independent and educated decisions. Meadours believes that HB 4531 would make more supportive experiences like this be the norm.
- The Arc of Texas: Kyle Piccola, Chief Government and Community Relations Officer of The Arc of Texas, testified in support of HB 4531, citing the need for legislation that will clearly define the guidelines for providing sexual assault examinations and treatments for adults with disabilities who are under guardianship. He stated that current statutes do not meet this standard, and this absence of clarity takes away opportunities for these survivors to make important and independent decisions. Piccola also pointed to the new Texas Statewide IDD Strategic Plan’s recognition of the issue and the need for a solution.
- TCDD: Ashley Ford, TCDD Public Policy & Communications Specialist, testified on the bill to offer background information on sexual assault and guardianship. She acknowledged the value of guardianship, but stressed that it should not be allowed to stand in the way of support and treatment for survivors of sexual assault. Ford emphasized TCDD’s goal of empowering and enabling people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to make important decisions independently, and indicated that HB 4531 is found to be in alignment with this principle.
Who opposes the bill and why?
No opposition to HB 4531 has been identified at this time.
How much will the bill cost?
According to the Legislative Budget Board, HB 4531 will have no fiscal impact to the State.
Is there a Senate companion to the bill?
An identical bill, Senate Bill 2237 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, has been filed in the Senate. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, but has not yet received a hearing.
For the latest information about where HB 4531 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.