Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Survey Response: Senator Jim Dabakis, Utah Senate 2

Sen. Jim Dabakis
Candidates for the November 2014 elections were given the opportunity to respond to a few questions relating to autism. The following responses are from Senator Jim Dabakis, candidate for Utah Senate District 2.

Insurance Coverage:   SB57 was passed in the 2014 legislative session. It goes into effect on January 1, 2016, and among other things, will require individual and large group plans to cover a limited amount of behavioral therapy for autistic children through age 9. The bill has a sunset clause which will cause it to expire on January 1, 2019. 

Would you support renewal or expansion of SB57 if the costs prove to be manageable?

Jim Dabakis:   
Yes, much more expansion! SB 57 was a start -- just a start. There is much left to do. And do it permanently and cover everyone. We as a state must be bold and stop worrying about insurance companies! Utah is far too timid in dealing with autism. And turning down $430 million dollars THIS year alone in Medicaid Expansion, for ideological reasons, is almost criminal!

WanderingWandering (or elopement) is an issue that affects around half of children with ASD, as well as many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are substantial costs involved with search efforts that often require emergency personnel. There are also promising technologies, such as smartphones, GPS, and Bluetooth, which can help with tracking these individuals. 

 Would you support efforts to:
  • better understand the extent of the wandering problem in Utah
  • promote training for emergency personnel
  • identify technological solutions and help make them affordable for caregivers
Jim Dabakis:
On wandering, we must mandate inclusion of training for all state and local emergency personnel and help families find and pay for technological solutions. The state must honor (with HELP) the caregivers. The state should be honoring and loving the incredible people whose selflessness and courage every day, dazzle us. The state should see itself as a partner, together with families, in dealing with autism.

Education: Education is a priority for many UAC members. Kids on the spectrum often require special education resources.

What do you see as the current state of the Utah education system, including Special Ed, and what steps would you support to improve it?

Jim Dabakis:   
Special Ed falls into the same crevice as the rest of Utah education--except even worse. The Problem: Utah ranks 50th! Spending per pupil: $6,206. Utah in 2012, again spent less than any other state. 22 years in a row leading the nation! How bad is it? Wyoming, for example, spent $15,897 and the national average $10,608.

Teacher compensation was also the lowest in the nation, at just $2,397 per student. By contrast, expenditure on teachers’ salaries across the nation averaged well over $4,000 per pupil.

For children with special needs, our state graduation rate is significantly below the national average. That is appalling.

And now for the worst part: For current students, Utah's educational attainment RESULTS are disastrous. Utah earned a “D+” for K-12 achievement, worse than the “C-” grade awarded to the U.S. overall.

Dabakis Solution:

1. Get classrooms more cash! Raise Utah's lowest-in-west severance tax, now 3.3% (S. Dakota's is 11.3%). Dump the "Flat Tax" fiasco that transfers $300 million a year from Utah school kids to the top 1% richest Utahns.

2. Let teachers teach, children learn--and stop soooo many damn state tests!

Thats my 2 point vision.

P.S. I also believe Utah should grab whatever money the Feds want to give us--and make sure no kid is hungry! Ever. You cannot learn with an empty stomach.

Housing and Employment: When autistic people transition out of the public school system, many of them need help with housing and employment. According to the 2013 Annual Report of the Utah Division of Services for People with Disabilities, Over 5,000 Utahns received services, and 80% of them had an intellectual disability. Another 1,892 Utahns are on the waiting list.

Would you support steps to improve housing and employment opportunities for individuals with autism?

Jim Dabakis:  
Yes. Absolutely. The legislature needs to not hold back in helping Utah families. Not be brought into doing what's right kicking and screaming. We, as a state and as a legislature should be leading the way in helping and in doing the morally right thing to help Utah families.