Okay, the Commonwealth of 2012 Virginia General Assembly starts today and those of us in the Virginia autism community should roll up our sleeves. This year is a long session and we have a lot to do.I’m focusing my efforts on a few things, and recommend everyone out there do the same.

1. Support the Virginia Autism Project in getting a legislative fix to the ABA insurance coverage issue. Short version of the story: Last year a law was passed making ABA a covered benefit for kids with autism between ages 2 and 6. Governor McDonnell added a rider that required state licensing of BCBAs, which we agreed to because he assured us that it would not affect ABA coverage while the licensing process was developed. However, in November Governor McDonnell told us that there was no way he could honor those statements and the only solution was to get the legislature to fix it. Insurance companies started charging for this benefit on January 1, 2012, but refuse to pay for any services using the licensing issue as an excuse. You can read more on it at the Virginia Autism Project’s web site. There is also an Autism Day On The Hill planned for January 12th. I will not make it, but instructions are right here if you want to go. I urge anyone who can make it to show up. If you can’t make it, please write and/or call your senator and delegate to let them know you need their help.

2. Advocate for Developmental Disability waiver slots in the next budget. As of right now there are none. With a wait list in excess of 1,000 it is irresponsible of the Governor to submit a budget that does not even consider our children and adults. Call and write your representatives.

3. Push to keep the GA from cutting additional funds from already underfunded services, like waiver hours, respite and the like. The current budget reduces waiver hours. The Arc of Virginia released a budget hearing tool kit that outlines the key issues.

If you don’t know how to contact your state representatives, you can do so at the General Assembly “Who’s my legislator” page. I will be updating this page as the session develops, so check back often. Happy advocating!

Update 1/19/12 Please contact your delegate and ask them to support HB 1106. We need 80 votes to fix this ABA issue. If you need information on what to say or how to say it, go to the Virginia Autism Project’s page.  Teresa Champion has an email form letter and other goodies to help get it passed.

There is another bill that needs our support. Many parents want to observe their child in the school setting and are told “no” by the school for a variety of reasons.  Bill HB400, introduced by Patrick Hope, will help resolve that issue by requiring school districts to have rules regarding observation. The summary on the HB 400 bill tracking site reads “Local school boards; policies permitting parents to observe children.  Requires local school boards to adopt and implement policies that would ensure parents may act as an observer in the child’s classroom.” Right now it is in committee, so contact committee members and try to get it moved forward.  While there is no docket available right now, you can find the committee info at this site.

Update 1/23/12: 1/23/12 HB 1106 has passed the house! Please contact your delegate and thank them for their support of HB 1106. We  got 96 yeas and only one nay. If you are in Delegate John Cox’s district, please send him a letter letting him know how you feel about his continued refusal to assist children with autism. His comments were particularly disparaging of the bill. The gist of his speech was that it was not possible to be pro business and help kids with autism. That sort of statement is totally out of touch with reality.

Also, we need to start contacting our Senators. Based on the folks we know on the hill we will have a tough time getting this bill out of committee. If you are in the district of any of these committee members, please ask them for their support.

District First Name Last Name Capitol Email Capitol Phone District Phone
11 SenatorStephen Martin district11@senate.virginia.gov (804)698-7511 (804) 674-0242
35 Senator Richard Saslaw district35@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7535 (703) 978-0200
18
Senator L. Louise
Lucas district18@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7518 (757) 397-8209
32 Senator Janet Howell district32@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7532 (703) 709-8283
23 Senator Stephen Newman district23@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7523 (434) 385-1065
14 Senator Harry Blevins district14@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7514 (757) 546-2435
2 Senator Mamie Locke district02@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7502 (757) 825-5880
39 Senator George Barker district39@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7539 (703) 303-1426
6 Senator Ralph Northam district06@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7506 (757) 818-5172
1 Senator John Miller district01@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7501 (757) 595-1100
22 Senator Ralph Smith district22@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7519 (540) 206-3597
8 Senator Jeffrey McWaters district08@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7508 (757) 965-3700
13 Senator Richard Black district13@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7513 (703) 406-2951
40 Senator Charles Carrico, Sr. district40@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7540 (276) 236-0098
22 Senator Tom Garrett, Jr. district22@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7522
Also, The Arc of Virginia has put out a great guideline for budget advocacy. You can find it here. This has all kinds of great information on pushing for more waiver spots and not reducing the care we have.
2/27/2012  Okay, HB 1106 passed unanimously through the Senate! Please write your senators and thank them for their support. Also, the governor signed it, so it is officially law. Thank him if you like. My perspective is that he simply corrected a problem that his amendment created and cost our kids 10 months of coverage, so he won’t be receiving my thanks. He also could have fixed this by asking for a more favorable opinion from our Attorney General, but he elected not to do so.
HB 400 was defeated in committee. The vote is below. Please make sure your representatives receive either your thanks or your condemnation, depending on how they voted.

HB 400 School boards, local; policies permitting parents to observe children.

02/08/12  House: Failed to report (defeated) in Education (10-Y 12-N)


YEAS–Cole, Pogge, Stolle, LeMunyon, Alexander, Ware, O., McClellan, Tyler, Morrissey, Keam–10.

NAYS–Tata, Landes, Lingamfelter, Rust, Massie, Greason, Bell, Richard P., Robinson, Yost, Yancey, Dudenhefer, Bulova–12.

ABSTENTIONS–0.

NOT VOTING–0.

There is another important bill that has come on my radar. HB 325 will require training of all school personnel be trained in behavioral therapy. This is huge and will really impact our kids where we need a lot of help. Right now it has passed the House and is in committee in the Senate. Please thank your delegates. You can see their votes here.  Also, if you are in the districts of any of the folks below please urge them to vote yes on this and get it to the Senate floor.

Martin (Chairman), Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Newman, Blevins, Locke, Barker, Northam, Miller, J.C., Smith, McWaters, Black,Carrico, Garrett

You can follow the bill here.  I’ll try to advise on it as I get more information.

The budget is looking better. The House budget had more waiver slots than expected. However, we still have a huge waiting list for the DD waivers. Call or write your Delegates and Senators and urge them to fund more.