Legislative Long Session Kicks Off! What Might the Session Hold For People on the Spectrum?

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This week marks the beginning of the North Carolina General Assembly long session, which typically lasts from the end of January to sometime in June/July.  Lawmakers arrived for work in Raleigh over the last two weeks and began organizing for the session, with new legislators receiving training.  There are a LOT of new folks – of the 170 legislators, 80 are serving in their first or second term.  They began hearing bills starting on January 31, and already leadership in the House and Senate have been discussing policy priorities, prior to bills being filed. We are likely to see proposals for tax reforms, changes to education, voter identification, overhauling unemployment compensation and reigning in Medicaid.

The Autism Society of North Carolina has its own set of public policy targets. These targets promote public policies that enhance the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. The targets are updated each year based on community feedback.  Though we work to promote these targets with our legislators, some issues get more attention than others in any given year. With the stated priorities of this new General Assembly, what might the session hold for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  1. Raising Autism Insurance Standards: The Autism Society of North Carolina, working in partnership with Autism Speaks, has been meeting with legislative leadership to encourage the state to adopt better insurance standards for those with autism. Expect legislation on insurance to be filed this session and to move forward through the committee process.
  2. Expanded Opportunities for Children on the Spectrum to Attend Non-Public Schools: Legislation passed two sessions ago gave some families of children with disabilities a tax credit for moving to home schools or private schools.  As part of education reforms, legislators are looking at scholarship programs that would open this opportunity to more families and make the program easier to use.
  3. Protections for People with Disabilities to Exercise Their Rights to Vote: Voter identification laws can have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, to exercise their voting rights. Because some people do not drive, or have limited funds, or have difficulty getting needed paperwork to access photo identification, expect that lawmakers will make adjustments to voter ID proposals to accommodate people with disabilities. [Questions about voting rights? Disability Rights NC has an info page here.]
  4. Changes to Medicaid: It’s difficult to predict what lawmakers will do with North Carolina’s Medicaid system, a $13 billion set of programs that provide health care and supportive services to people with disabilities, including those on CAP and Innovations. The Autism Society of North Carolina continues to emphasize the benefits of Medicaid services in assisting people to be able to live and participate in their communities. We hope lawmakers will see these programs as effective investments in communities for those on the autism spectrum, though it is looking more likely that lawmakers will not expand Medicaid this year to cover an estimated 500,000 low income people, including those with disabilities trying to return to work.
  5. A Short Term and Long Term Fix for “The Group Home Problem:” Language changes in the last days of the budget process in 2012 left group homes for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness without the ability to access funds to keep operating after the legislature made changes to who could receive personal care services. One of the first bills passed this session, House Bill 5, makes sure those homes can remain funded through the end of the fiscal year. The bill now moves to the Senate. Proposals for a long term fix for group homes, adult care homes, and special care units will likely be up for discussion in the coming months.
  6. The Budget: Numerous programs that are used by people with autism and their families are funded by the state’s budget – everything from special education services in schools, to  Medicaid waiver one-on-one supports, to state developmental disability center crisis programs. Over the last few years NC has cut funds for programs that served people who do not qualify for Medicaid, as well as frozen spending for Medicaid waiver programs, a trend that has left thousands on waiting lists for help. The new Governor will propose his budget priorities this spring.  Then the NC Senate will develop the first budget bill this year, with the House responding with their budget bill. ASNC will report more specific news on the budget once appropriations committees begin meeting and talking.

What can you do?

  1. Stay Informed: Subscribe to the ASNC blog, sign up for our e-newsletters and alerts.
  2. Talk to Your  Legislator: You can write, email, call, or visit. ASNC encourages you to share your story about autism spectrum disorder, how it affects you, your family or those you care about. We have tips for making that contact and we are glad to help you or your local chapter set up a meeting with your state legislators. You can find out who represents you here.
  3. Respond to Calls for Action: Periodically ASNC will ask those in our network to respond with action. We don’t ask often, so when we do, you know we really need your help!

If you have questions about these issues, or other public policy issues for people on the autism spectrum and their families, please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at 919-865-5068 or at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org. if you need one-on-one advocacy help from one of our Parent Advocates,  please see the map to find those for your region. To connect with other parents, find a local Chapter or Support Group.

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