What is the NC General Assembly Up to This Session?

Editor’s Note: The following entry was written by Jennifer Mahan, Autism Society of North Carolina Director of Government Relations. Jennifer will be providing a monthly summary of legislative activities while during this year’s short session as well as other updates about autism-related legislative efforts.

May 14th was the start of the” short” legislative session this year. Although the General Assembly has been back in Raleigh for several brief sessions to address specific issues in the last few months, the traditional “short” session takes place in even-numbered years and lasts for about 6-7 weeks. During this time, The NC House and the NC Senate generally only make adjustments to the two-year budget they passed the previous year and work on legislation that was passed by one chamber the previous year, but not taken up yet by the other chamber. The only new legislation introduced is based on recommendations of study or oversight committees or sometimes legislation that addresses urgent, unforeseen problems. So, we should see fewer bills to keep an eye on – but you never know! Here are some issues we are advocating on or monitoring:

State Budget:
The budget includes many items that impact people on the autism spectrum including funds for early childhood intervention, education, Medicaid and state funded services and supports like housing, respite, developmental therapies, and vocational services, just to name a few . Policy changes may also be included in the budget special provisions. So far, the House has been holding budget committee meetings and only making small adjustments: the good news is it looks like no cuts to direct services and supports. The process has just begun, though it is moving quickly, so as always we will continue to keep a close eye on it. We know that the House and Senate are likely to have very different versions of an education budget given that the Senate President Pro Tem has a set of education initiatives he introduced last week. Polls have shown public support for raising revenue to support services and education, but it is unlikely that this General Assembly will make any changes to the existing revenue or tax structure. The process has just begun, though it is moving quickly, so as always we will continue to keep a close eye on it.

HB 916 and Managed Care:
Last year the General Assembly passed a bill, HB 916, which mandated that the state implement managed care waivers statewide for nearly all publicly funded developmental disability, mental health and addiction services (DD, MH and SA) by July 2013. This huge change has been criticized by many individuals, families and advocates for the quick speed at which it is expected to happen, the loss of services like independent case management, changes to CAP IDD waivers, changes to guardianship, and other problems with a change of this size and scope. Some legislators have expressed concerns about the new system, and we hope to see some positive changes recommended in legislation.

LME MCO Governance:
The local management entities that direct DD, MH and SA services are becoming managed care organizations and in the process must provide oversight to larger regions with additional counties and more complex operations. The LMEs and some Legislators want changes to the way in which LMEs oversee the services they manage and to how governmental agencies and Boards oversee them. The Joint Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services recommended a series of changes which have been incorporated into Senate Bill 875 and House Bill 1075 including smaller Boards, more Board training, allowing for exemptions from the state personnel act such as control over MCO Director’s salaries, the ability to borrow funds and own real property, the ability to keep some information out of the public eye, and the transfer of guardianship from the LME to local Departments of Social Services. While the Autism Society of North Carolina does not have a position on this bill at this time, advocates have been particularly concerned about the makeup of the governing Boards to ensure they are representative of those they serve including families and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as people with other expertise in this area. In addition, advocates are concerned about the availability of quality guardianship and the continued transparency of government activities, so we will monitor the progress of any bills.

Autism Insurance Coverage:
The Autism Society of North Carolina and other groups continue to advocate for better insurance standards that cover services and treatment of autism spectrum disorder. We have a bill that was introduced last session, but it has yet to be heard in any committee in the House or Senate. While there is support for the bill behind the scenes in the House, we have not seen the same kind of encouragement about the legislation from the Senate. Without the support of both chambers, passing a bill in the short session is not possible. Following the elections in November, ASNC will once again seek bi-partisan support in both chambers for a new bill to be introduced in the long session that begins at the end of January 2013. This is disappointing for families who have been waiting for better insurance coverage, and tragic for children who could be helped by better treatment, but it’s also a loss for the state – in the long run, untreated conditions like autism result in higher costs of care and fewer people living and working to their full potential.

What can you do?
The best thing you can do is tell your story. More and more Legislators are familiar with autism, but the Legislator who represents you may not understand how autism, and these issues related to it, affect you and your family. Check out the Autism Society of North Carolina’s “Tips for Contacting Your Legislator” for ideas about what to say and who to say it to!

Have questions about these of other policy issues? Contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Government Relations for the Autism Society of North Carolina at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org, call 919-865-5068, or post a question in the comments below.

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