Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 Legislative Session Update

The 2017 legislative session is well underway and again has a record number of bills.  Below are some that affect some portion of the autism community.  If you feel strongly about any of them, feel free to send your legislator an e-mail.   If a bill is about to be heard in committee and your legislator is on that committee, it's particularly relevant.  If you have personal experience to share, consider e-mailing the bill sponsors with your story.

SB0199 ABLE Act Revisions, by Todd Weiler

ABLE accounts are like 529 college savings but for people with disabilities.  They are structured so that they work well with support programs like SSI.  You can learn more about them here.

The law necessary to create ABLE accounts in Utah was enacted 2 years ago, but no financial institutions stepped up to run them.  Senator Weiler's new bill makes it so that Utahns can open ABLE accounts in other states and still get a Utah tax credit for money put away.

This bill made it passed the Senate Business and Labor Committee with no opposition, and is currently on the 2nd reading calendar in the Senate.

HB0092  Physical Restraint in Schools, by Carol Moss

This bill limits the use of physical restraint by school employees (but not resource officers) to cases when a person's safety is at risk.  It also spells out how to handle property damage.

It is currently "circled" on the house calendar after a 3rd reading.

HB0150 Custody Amendments Related to Parents with Disabilities, by Patrice Arent (& Sen. Weiler)

This bill makes it so that in a custody dispute, it has to be proven how a parent's disability affects their ability to have custody of a child.

It has passed the house, and the senate Judiciary committee, and is currently on the 2nd reading calendar.

SB0059  Students with Disabilities Evaluation Amendments, by Gene Davis (& Rep. Hutchings)
SB0060  School District Amendments, by Gene Davis (& Rep. Hutchings)

Both of these bills are intended to prevent children with disabilities from slipping through the cracks during transitions between private and public schools.  They are in response to cases that occurred in Utah and have been worked out with participation from the school system.

SB0061  Students with Disabilities Accommodations Funding, by Gene Davis (& Rep. Hutchings)

This bill allocates funds to reimburse local schools for the costs of services provided under a 504 plan.  As written, it is specific to children with autism.  In committee, the bill sponsor said that it should apply to any 504 plan, but they don't know how many will apply for this reimbursement, so they're just starting with autism.  Apparently, nobody's ever tracked how much gets spent on 504s (something that needs to change).

A proposed amendment would allow the reimbursement to also go to private schools or parents of kids in private schools who pay for the costs of a 504 service.

Concerns have been raised that money spent here would be better spent elsewhere within education.

These three bills have passed the Senate and will be heard at the 8:00 a.m. session of the House Education Committee tomorrow (Wednesday February 15th).

Members of that committee include:
Rep. Val L. Peterson (Chair), Rep. Kim F. Coleman (Vice Chair), Rep. LaVar Christensen, Rep. Bruce R. Cutler, Rep. Justin L. Fawson, Rep. Francis D. Gibson, Rep. Eric K. Hutchings, Rep. Bradley G. Last, Rep. Daniel McCay, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, Rep. Michael E. Noel, Rep. Derrin R. Owens, Rep. Marie H. Poulson, Rep. V. Lowry Snow


Monday, October 31, 2016

Survey Response: Craig Bowden Candidate for US Congressional District #1


Survey Response: Craig Bowden Candidate for US Congressional District #1

Candidates for the November 2016 elections were given the opportunity to answer a few questions relating to autism.  The following are Craig Bowden's responses.


Healthcare:  44 states (including Utah) have enacted legislation requiring health insurance to cover autism.  State law cannot affect self-funded plans, which fall under federal ERISA rules.  Would you support adding autism coverage to federally-regulated plans?

Craig Bowden:  Yes. I believe that people on the spectrum should be covered.

Education:  Over the past 4 decades, the ADA and IDEA have dramatically improved access to education for students with disabilities, including those with autism.  Many students with autism need the support of an IEP or 504 plan in order to access an education.  Although IDEA requires states to provide services and provides some federal funding, that funding has never reached the originally intended 40%.  In 2016, IDEA is funded at around 16%.  Would you support efforts to increase federal funding for IDEA?

Craig Bowden:  First we need to find out where the money allotted actually went. Before
we can ever discuss an increase in spending, especially where we are
sitting at nearly $20 trillion in debt, we need to identify where money
is going.

Employment:  In the years following high school, 2/3rds of people with autism are neither employed nor continuing education.  “H.R. 5587: Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act” passed the House in September.  It supports career and technical education (CTE) programs and helps students with autism gain skills necessary for employment.  Do you support such legislation?

Craig Bowden:  Yes.

Wandering:  Almost half of children with autism wander from a caregiver.  “S. 2614: Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2016” passed the Senate in July.  It provides federal support for equipment and training for first responders and schools to combat wandering.  Do you support such legislation?

Craig Bowden:  100%. Law enforcement and first responders need to have adequate
training to ensure they are prepared to interact with individuals in the
spectrum.

Personal experience:  The autism rate in Utah is 1 in 54.  Your family and social circle doesn’t have to be very large before it includes someone with autism.  If you want to share any personal or professional experience with autism, please do so.

Craig Bowden:  My step son Brandon is autistic. I personally understand the challenges
people in this community face, as I am one of them. It is important to  me to ensure that there is equal opportunity for him and others in our  state and nation. Especially in education where it takes a dedicated  group of teachers, counselors, and administration working with the
parents and child to bring the best outcome possible for them.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Survey Response: Doug Owens, Candidate for U.S. Congressional District #4



Candidates for the November 2016 elections were given the opportunity to answer a few questions relating to autism.  The following are responses are from Doug Owens:

Healthcare:  44 states (including Utah) have enacted legislation requiring health insurance to cover autism.  State law cannot affect self-funded plans, which fall under federal ERISA rules.  Would you support adding autism coverage to federally-regulated plans?

Doug Owens:  I understand how expensive it can be to care for a child with autism, and I would support adding autism coverage to federally-regulated plans. I also know that those expenses often don't end when the child becomes an adult. It's estimated that care for an adult with autism will cost more than $3 million over a lifetime, and few parents have much, if any, excess cash to pay into a savings plan to prepare for those expenses. This is why I proudly supported the ABLE Act, and would have co-sponsored it in Congress. The ABLE Act helps individuals save money to cover expenses like housing, transportation, education, and other types of necessary assistance.  These tax-exempt saving accounts will help reduce the financial stress and difficulties individuals with autism and their families face when planning for their future. In addition, these accounts will not impact eligibility for disability benefits. I also support broadening 529 college education savings plans to include children with special needs. Individuals with autism and their families need the financial flexibility and freedom to live a life that suits them best.

Education:  Over the past 4 decades, the ADA and IDEA have dramatically improved access to education for students with disabilities, including those with autism.  Many students with autism need the support of an IEP or 504 plan in order to access an education.  Although IDEA requires states to provide services and provides some federal funding, that funding has never reached the originally intended 40%.  In 2016, IDEA is funded at around 16%.  Would you support efforts to increase federal funding for IDEA?

Doug Owens:  Ensuring that every child receives a quality education is one of my highest priorities. I understand the unique needs and demands involved with educating autistic children, and I am committed to supporting measures that provide them with the best education possible.  All educators, not only special education teachers, are vastly under-valued and under-paid, and we must develop ways to bring more money into the Utah education system that will provide our educators with the resources and flexibility to address the most pressing needs of their students. This is especially true for special education needs. As a Member of Congress, I will work to ensure that any revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act would increase funding and reduce burdensome requirements for improving special education. I will fight to maintain Utah's share of federal resources for Title 1 schools and special education programs.

Employment:  In the years following high school, 2/3rds of people with autism are neither employed nor continuing education.  “H.R. 5587: Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act” passed the House in September.  It supports career and technical education (CTE) programs and helps students with autism gain skills necessary for employment.  Do you support such legislation?

Doug Owens:  I have seen firsthand how those with autism benefit greatly from being employed. That is why I would have voted for and strongly support the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.

Wandering:  Almost half of children with autism wander from a caregiver.  “S. 2614: Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2016” passed the Senate in July.  It provides federal support for equipment and training for first responders and schools to combat wandering.  Do you support such legislation?

Doug Owens:  When elected to Congress, I will strongly support Avonte's Law and would also be proud to introduce the House version of this bill. I understand that wandering is one of the greatest fears for families of autistic individuals. The option of tracking devices would not only help reduce the stress families face when their child wanders, but would also reduce the cost and length of potential searches. The $10 million in grants provided in this bill would help make tracking devices an accessible option for working families. Utah's incidence of autism, which is one in 54 children, is higher than the national average, and I would fight hard for Utah to receive a greater share of these grants.

Personal experience:  The autism rate in Utah is 1 in 54.  Your family and social circle doesn’t have to be very large before it includes someone with autism.  If you want to share any personal or professional experience with autism, please do so.

Doug Owens: My wife Cynthia and I are the parents of four wonderful children, one of whom has high-functioning autism. Autism is not an "issue" for us. We have lived and continue to live the concerns of parents with children on the spectrum. When elected, you can count on me to work tirelessly to ensure that all individuals on the spectrum and their families have the resources they need to address the condition and flourish in our society.