March 2009 – General Assembly Update

As the newsletter goes to press, the fate of some legislation is still undecided. We can report to you on the following bills of interest to the autism community that failed:

  • HB 1602 Local School Divisions; behavior analyst certification
  • HB 1985 and SB 956 Autism Tuition Assistance Grant Program
  • HB 2104 Students with Disabilities Tuition Assistance Grant Program
  • HB 1588 and SB 1260 Health Insurance: mandated coverage for autism spectrum disorder.

With the failure of the health insurance mandate, it is all the more important that our efforts continue. We were a strong presence and a loud voice this year – next year we must be stronger and louder. Autism has the attention of the General Assembly and we must build on the efforts we put forth this year and show our legislators that we are determined to bring the needed supports to individuals with autism in Virginia.

The day after the Senate version of the autism insurance bill died, a reporter contacted Pat DiBari, a parent and grassroots leader from Northern Virginia, for his reaction. Rather than giving a response to the failure of the bills in the 2009 session, Mr. DiBari instead told a reporter that the efforts to pass an autism insurance mandate in 2010 had started that day. That is the kind of attitude that will make a bill for autism insurance a reality! Mr. DiBari then went on to highlight the many things that advocates for autism insurance had achieved this session, one of which was that advocates for autism united from across the state of Virginia to work together. The grassroots group behind the bills for autism insurance involved folks from Northern Virginia, the Tidewater area, Southwest Virginia and Central Virginia. It was a statewide effort and unlike anything the legislators had ever seen before. Your voice does make a difference! Although the failure of the bills listed above were heartbreaking and disappointing to our community, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you for your efforts this session. The General Assembly was flooded with phone calls, emails and letters from autism advocates. Folks took time off of work and juggled childcare to visit with legislators, attend rallies and sit patiently through committee meetings that were delayed for hours. Our voice was loud and our presence was prominent.

On Monday, February 9, the Autism Society of America, Central Virginia Affiliate was recognized in the gallery of the Senate by Senator Martin and welcomed by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Our affiliate was thanked for our efforts to raise awareness of the needs of the autism community and our efforts to educate the legislators. Five members of the affiliate, proudly wearing red, rose for the “warm welcome” from the Senators.

But a lesson that we have learned this session is that our legislators must hear our voices all year long, not just during the General Assembly session. The ASACV must reach out to our area delegates and senators to continue to educate them and keep them aware of the needs of the autism community. As this is an election year for the Delegates in the House, the ASACV hopes to send questions to the candidates so that they may respond with their positions on issues of importance to the autism community. In the future, we will ask for members who are willing to help us achieve these goals. We hope you will consider being a part of these important initiatives.