Autism Omnibus Bill approved by the Massachusetts Legislature
The Autism Omnibus Bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate but the branches’ versions differed so the bill returned to both branches in compromise form. The joint effort of The Arc and AFAM, with the leadership of Barbara L’Italien, Dir. of Government Affairs, was essential to passage of this bill in the final hours of the legislative session. Barbara took the lead on the efforts with a strong team including Amy Weinstock (Autism Insurance Resource Center), Julia Landau (MAC), Ann Guay and others. Other organizations in AFAM, chapters of The Arc, AANE and other groups showed their support. The bill was a combination of the pieces of legislation filed by Representative Garrett Bradley and Senator Jennifer Flanagan in January, 2013 as a result of the work by the Governor's Autism Commission. The legislation:
• Reestablishes the Autism Commission as a permanent and autonomous entity, staff included
• Two specific areas directed to study - the long-term needs for housing and employment - in addition to the areas of study and recommendations previously covered by the commission.
• DDS will now be directed to include in its eligibility guidelines the federal definition of developmental disability for people on the autism spectrum and those with Prader-Willi. This is a significant change as it will assist many whose functional needs are not reflected by their IQ score and who are now denied access to DDS services.
• Health insurance coverage for medically necessary treatments to Mass Health recipients for ABA behavior therapy and both dedicated and non-dedicated augmentative communication devices will now be funded for those through age 21 years.
• Public school special education teachers will have the option to attain an "Autism Endorsement" certification - a concentration in autism coursework and training to be leaders within their school communities.
• A tax-free savings account will be established -- patterned after the federal ABLE ACT legislation -- to allow all disabled families to save in a 529-style plan for expenses including education, housing, and any other needed supports and services. This section will not take effect immediately due to the need for federal participation.
The two other top priority bills of The Arc which passed this session are Real Lives, which places in statute self-determination for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and families; and National Background Check, which ensures a national safeguard for those hired to work directly with people served by DDS (Department of Developmental Services)
“We are so pleased with the results of this legislative session,” said AFAM’s Michael J. Borr. “These three pieces of legislation, as well as the inclusion of funding for autism data collection and tracking in the IT Bond bill, epitomize what happens when organizations work in a cooperative manner. AFAM’s 12 member organizations and our advocacy partnership with The Arc of Massachusetts personify that successful model of collaboration!”
Barbara L’Italien added “This legislation didn’t just happen. It represents the culmination of 4 years of efforts, including 3 years of the work of the Autism Commission and 2 years of advocacy at the State House. This will be transformational both for low-income families whose children will be able to receive behavioral therapy through MassHealth and for those additional families who may now be eligible for DDS services based on functional limitations rather than IQ.”
August 1, 2014