The North Carolina Legislature has been busy not just looking at the state budget, but introducing policy changing bills. Here are a few of the 35 bills (so far) that The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) is monitoring or actively advocating on due to their impact on people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Autism Insurance: North Carolina Senators Purcell, Garrou, and Mansfield, along with Co-sponsor Senator Atwater, have introduced NC Senate Bill 115, titled “Coverage for Treatment of Autism Disorders.” The bill would ensure that health benefits plans in North Carolina will provide coverage for diagnostic and treatment services for Autism Spectrum Disorders in individuals.
ASNC is working to secure bill sponsors for a House version of the legislation, and we hope to have more news for you soon. SB 115 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Insurance. Procedurally, the bill must be heard in committee and voted on favorably to be considered on the Senate floor. ASNC is following this legislation closely and will let you know when and how to take action.
Education/Charter Schools: Senate Bill 8 would remove the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, allowing the charter school commission outlined in the bill to approve and monitor new schools. Advocates for children with disabilities are most concerned that the bill be changed to make sure children with disabilities are not denied a place in a charter school due to a school’s lack of special education services and that bill language clarifies beyond a doubt that nothing in the legislation could be interpreted to prevent the formation of charter schools to be developed that focus solely on children with special education needs (such as ASD), as well as other specialties such as children of the same gender, children who are academically gifted, or children with disciplinary difficulties. The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Education committee.
Identification, Government Services and Voting: House Bill 33 State Law to Provide for Acceptable IDs would more narrowly define what is considered acceptable identification in North Carolina. Citizens would be required to obtain some sort of photo identification, such as a driver’s license or photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. This in itself is not a problem, unless additional bills are introduced that require people to show photo identification to access government services; something that has been discussed, but not yet introduced.
In the House Government Committee hearing on H 33, Legislators had inaccurate information about the availability of free picture IDs for persons with disabilities. In fact, under current law, free IDs are limited to those who are blind, those over 70, homeless persons, and those who once had a driver’s license but had it revoked due to a disability. If you never had a driver’s license, or don’t qualify to drive, you need to pay for the ID. Many with disabilities would not have access to free identification, would need to pay for supporting documents to acquire ID and some would not be able to physically present themselves at the DMV for the required application and issuance of ID.
Should the Legislature move forward with a planned bill to require a photo ID to vote, the state would then be required to issue free photo ID. Based on the estimate of the number needing free identification, the cost could come to 20 million dollars; a tough sell in a year with large budget deficits. The other option would be allow other documentation to show identity, such as that allowed in the Help America Vote Act.
Legislators are also working to prevent reported voter fraud and exploitation of individuals with disabilities. House Bill 114 Assistance to Voters in Family Care Homes prevents anyone from assisting a family care home resident with a disability in voting, except the individual’s legal guardian. Feedback from advocates will likely result in bill language being changed so that it requires guardians to be notified rather than be present at voting. This change would account for individuals who are part of corporate guardianship in which an organization is responsible for a large number of people. It would be impossible for someone who is a guardian for hundreds to be present at all voting.
Next posting: Bills based on recommendations from the Legislative Oversight Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services and from the Institute of Medicine Study on Adult Care Homes.
The Legislature has been busy! If you have questions about a bill you have heard about, or a policy issue, post it here or contact Jennifer Mahan, ASNC Director of Government Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.