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Assembly Panel Advances Quijano & Vainieri Huttle Bill Creating NJ Hearing Impairment Task Force

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano and Valerie Vainieri Huttle establishing a task force to help aid New Jersey residents who suffer from hearing impairments was approved by an Assembly panel on Monday.

According to the sponsors, the Department of Human Services estimates that about 850,000 New Jersey residents have varying degrees of hearing loss ranging from mild to profound, including individuals who were born deaf and people who encounter late-stage hearing loss.

“Hearing impairment can have a profound impact on one’s life, whether it’s genetic, medically induced or trauma,” said Quijano (D-Union). “These numbers are only expected to increase, along with the need for services, as individuals reach senior citizen status. As a state, we need to find ways to assist those who suffer from hearing impairments, regardless of the cause.”

The bill (A-4539) would establish the “New Jersey Hearing Impairment Task Force” in order to study, compare, and evaluate state laws, regulations, and policies intended to improve the livelihood of individuals who have a hearing impairment, including but not limited to children, seniors, and veterans.

“Nearly a million New Jersey residents suffer from some form of hearing loss,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “As more and more studies show, this number will only increase because of the ‘iPod generation’s’ heavy use of electronics that magnify sound well beyond recommended levels. We need to get a better handle on what we can be doing as a state to aid those who suffer from hearing impairments.”

The force task force would be required to study and assess the following issues:
– the effectiveness of New Jersey health insurance mandates related to hearing impairment in comparison to health insurance mandates in other states;
– the accessibility and effectiveness of medical testing for individuals who may have a hearing impairment;
– the accessibility of hearing aids and assistive technologies for individuals who have a hearing impairment;
– the accessibility and effectiveness of rehabilitation services for individuals who have a hearing impairment; and
– the effectiveness of educational policies on the identification, evaluation, and support of children who have a hearing impairment.

The 13 member task force would be comprised of the commissioners of the departments of Human Services, Education, and Banking and Insurance (or their designees); the state Director of the Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and nine public members appointed evenly by the Governor, Senate President and Assembly Speaker that include one member who is diagnosed with a hearing impairment; one member who is the parent of a child diagnosed with a hearing impairment, and the remaining who specialize in speech, language, audiology, pediatric, senior citizens and veterans affairs issues.

Under the bill, the task force would be required to issue a final report to the Governor and Legislature no later than 180 days after the first organizational meeting with a summary of the undertaking study, as well as any recommended changes to state law, regulation, or policy.

The legislation was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, chaired by Vainieri Huttle, and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.