Wrapping Up the 2015 Legislative Session

NC House ChamberThis article was contributed by Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ASNC.

The NC General Assembly recently concluded an eight-month legislative session, the longest on record for the past 14 years. During the long session, ASNC continued to advocate for our legislative priorities, including access to high quality services and supports, better education opportunities, and a system that promotes good outcomes. The NC General Assembly passed a number of bills that affect people with autism and their families. A summary is below.

Budget HB 97: ASNC has posted a separate blog post about items in the state budget that affect people with autism, other intellectual and developmental disabilities, and health conditions. The budget includes a number of policy issues as well as additions and cuts to the state’s two year budget. The full budget bill HB 97 and committee reports can be found on the General Assembly website in the left column on the front page.

Autism Insurance SB 676: Senate Bill 676, “Autism Health Insurance Coverage,” passed in the final day of the legislative session. The new law requires large group health plans to provide health-care benefits for the treatment of autism for children and youth through age 18. The new law applies to companies that operate only in North Carolina with more than 50 employees and who do not “self-insure.” Insurance laws can be complicated, and ASNC recommends reading more details in this blog post and checking our autism insurance information page.

ABLE Act for North Carolina: Legislation passed this year will allow people with disabilities and their families to open 529 “ABLE” accounts and set aside money for disability related expenses without losing eligibility for other benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. The law passed this year, and the NC Treasurer’s Office estimates that accounts will be available by summer of 2016. Read more in this blog post. A longer article can be found in our Summer 2015 Spectrum magazine on pages 10 and 11.

Medicaid Reform: NC will create a new Medicaid managed-care system and change the state agency that operates North Carolina’s Medicaid programs. Medicaid services will be contracted out to private managed-care companies and regional provider (hospital) led health systems. The focus of this new system will be on integrating care, especially physical and mental health care, improving health outcomes and controlling costs. All Medicaid services, excluding dental but including those for intellectual and developmental disabilities, are expected to be part of the managed-care model. Changes could take 5-10 years, depending on how long it takes to set up the new system and for the federal government to approve North Carolina’s Medicaid managed-care waiver(s). ASNC staff are reviewing the final Medicaid reform bill and will post more information in the future.

HB 921/Budget Education Provisions: Significant sections of House Bill 921, Educational Opportunities for People with Disabilities, were included in the budget in two sections on elementary and post secondary education. Section 8.30.(a) requires North Carolina to study and develop policy changes for improving outcomes for K-12 students with disabilities, including ways to:

  • Raise graduation rates
  • Provide more outcomes-based goals
  • Ensure access to career-ready diplomas
  • Integrate accessible digital learning options
  • Provide earlier and improved transition planning

State agencies are expected to reform the IEP process to focus on outcomes-based gals, bring together stakeholders to improve transition services plans, create ways for students with IEPs to access Future Ready Core Courses of Study (technical and vocational education) as a viable alternative to Occupational Course of Study diplomas, and look at model programs for increasing school performance and graduation rates. The NC Department of Public Instruction is required to report to the General Assembly’s Joint legislative Oversight Committee on Education on the above activities by November 15 and annually thereafter.

Section 11.19.(a) requites state agencies to collaborate to support educational opportunities for students and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, particularly in transitioning to adulthood, post-secondary education, and employment. It requires the NC Department of Health and Human Services; the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services; the University of North Carolina system; and the community college system in consultation with the NC Postsecondary Education Alliance and other stakeholders to:

  • Assess system gaps and needs for supporting students/people with disabilities transitioning into adulthood
  • Develop policies and programs to expand post-secondary educational options and employment
  • Implement more public awareness of post-secondary education and employment of people with disabilities
  • Develop joint policies and common data indicators for tracking outcomes of people with disabilities leaving high school
  • Consider options for technology to link agency databases

ASNC advocated for funding to support technical assistance centers to support the above activities, but these were not funded in the budget. We will be going back to the legislature during the short session to continue to work on additional funding.

Changes to Students with Disabilities Scholarships: The Students with Disabilities Scholarship for students with IEPs who opt for non-public education was increased from $3,000 to $4,000 per semester ($8,000 per year), and policy changes allow funds to be dispersed to families and schools prior to the school year. Due to increased demand, there is a waiting list for the scholarships. ASNC will continue to advocate for additional funds to serve those waiting.

In addition, House Bill 334, passed at the end of session, will change the re-assessment process for students in receiving the scholarship: students must either be “assessed for continued eligibility” by a) the local Education Authority to determine if the child is still a child with a disability under IDEA, OR b) by a licensed psychologist with a school psychology focus who shall assess whether the non-public school has improved the student’s educational performance and the student would benefit from continuing to attend the non-public school.

School Staff Assault Bill SB 343: ASNC continues to monitor SB 343 legislation which would make assault on school personnel a felony. Advocates, including ASNC, pushed for changes to the bill that exempted students with IEPs and required assessments to determine if the student has a disability. ASNC remains concerned about the bill given that “assault” is not well defined and many students with a diagnosis of autism or other developmental challenges may not have IEPs. The bill is eligible for consideration in next year’s short session and is currently being held in the House Committee on Children, Youth, and Families.

If you have questions about the North Carolina state budget or other policy issues, please contact Jennifer Mahan, ASNC Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5068.

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