April 17: Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive Autism bill – House 4047. The bill was a combination of many of the pieces of legislation filed in January of 2013 as a result of the work by the Governor’s Autism Commission.
The legislation will reestablish the Autism Commission as a permanent and autonomous entity, necessary since the previous commission sun-setted upon release of the report. It provides for an executive director to support autism advocacy, training and reporting. There are two specific areas directed to study – the long-term needs for housing and employment – in addition to the areas of study and recommendations previously covered by the commission.
DDS will now be directed to include in its eligibility guidelines the federal definition of developmental disability for people on the autism spectrum and those with Prader Willi. This change will assist many whose functional needs are not reflected by their IQ score and who are now denied access to DDS.
Public school teachers will have the option to attain an “Autism Endorsement” certification – a concentration in autism coursework and training to be leaders within their school communities.
A pre-tax savings account will be established – patterned after the federal ABLE ACT legislation- to allow all disabled families to save in a 529-style plan for expenses including education, housing, and any other needed supports and services.
The Arc thanks Representative Garrett Bradley, who served as a member of the Autism Commission and lead on the bills contained in the omnibus legislation that was endorsed today. His efforts to move this bill along (and the work of Gigiin his office) are deeply appreciated. When the representative was contacted about the bill’s passage, he said “I am grateful to the Speaker for his strong leadership in proposing this Autism Omnibus Bill and thankful for the attention he has given to the recommendations of the Autism Commission. This legislation will provide vital tools assisting individuals with autism and Asperger’s syndrome to make important strides in their quality of life.”
House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey likewise played a pivotal role in vetting the bill and we are thankful for his efforts and support. The Chairman stated, “With this legislation, we set forth a comprehensive proposal to provide additional services to individuals with disabilities. By implementing these changes we recognize the unique needs of residents with autism and provide them with the flexibility necessary to meet those challenges. Our focus is on increasing access to quality services that provide the best foundation of care for both children and adults with autism.”
Last, but not least, House Speaker Bob Deleo needs to recognized for his long-term commitment to the people with disabilities. During his tenure, the Autism Medical Insurance mandate was passed, the original Autism Commission was formed, the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver began and training requirements for special education staff on assistive communications devices began. His enthusiastic support of the Autism Commission moved this bill to the forefront. The Speaker remarked, “I’m proud that this comprehensive, forward-looking bill is advancing in the House. I’ve heard firsthand that our efforts related to autism, particularly the 2010 insurance legislation, have had lasting, transformative effects. I believe this bill is the next, crucial step to make Massachusetts the leader in caring for residents confronting autism.”
Through her role at The Arc as Director of Government Affairs, Barbara L’Italien has been able to coordinate advocacy for the legislative recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Autism. The partnership between The Arc and AFAM has proved effective. Over the past sixteen months many members of AFAM and the Commission participated in the advocacy. Recognition to Amy Weinstock of the Autism Insurance Resource Center; Ann Guay, Julia Landau of MA Advocates for Children and Michael Wilcox of Asperger’s Association of New England. Executive Director at The Arc, Leo Sarkissian commented, “Barbara L’Italien, who served as Chair of the Autism Commission utilized her advocacy skills as a former legislator to make sure that passage of the Autism bill was a reality.”
In closing, Barbara L’Italien noted: “The passage of H4047 in the House today is the culmination of four years of effort studying and prioritizing the needs of the Autism community, filing legislation to address those needs and advocating for those changes. I believe that addressing the DDS eligibility issue will be truly transformational for those individuals and their families who were being left without a safety net. Thank you to the House for this groundbreaking initiative on behalf
of so many families.”
After passage in the House, the bill will move to the Senate where historically there has been support for the development of autism supports.