Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Autism bill shot down in Oklahoma Legislature

by Jay Paul Gumm

DURANT — Hello again, everyone! The first week of session always has its ups and downs, and certainly that was the case for the first week of the 2009 Oklahoma Legislature.

The high point for me was the governor’s “State of the State” address.

Gov. Henry said health insurance policies in the state of Oklahoma should cover diagnosis and treatment of autism. The fight to enact “Nick’s Law” has been among my top priorities.

It says something about our values when our highest elected official reaches out to help some of our most vulnerable citizens.

You would think an effort like that would cross all political differences, uniting those of us elected to represent every Oklahoman. It did not.

While the governor’s call brought about half the lawmakers to their feet in applause, those content to allow children to suffer in silence sat on their hands.

Then came Tuesday, when — for the first time — members of the House of Representatives would be allowed to vote on a version of “Nick’s Law.” Unfortunately, “Nick’s Law” was in a committee constructed with the sole purpose to defeat this bill.

The committee was made up of nine Republicans who either opposed “Nick’s Law” or did not have the fortitude to stand up to their leadership.

Five Democrats also served on the committee

A member of the leadership who gets to vote in all committees even participated, stacking the deck even higher against kids with autism.

The debate and outcome were predictable. Those opposing “Nick’s Law” used an actuarial study they commissioned, suggesting premium costs would be much higher than the minimal costs seen in states that enacted such legislation.

In fact, the actuary they hired admitted under questioning that he was biased against autism coverage.

The bill failed right down party lines, continuing to make Oklahoma the only state where ending insurance discrimination against children with autism is a partisan issue.

To their credit, House Republicans did pass their autism bill. There is nothing wrong with it — just like there is nothing wrong with a pack of shingles at a construction site.

Their plan to increase the number of autism therapists in the state is like putting shingles on a house before you pour its foundation. It is backwards and doomed to failure.

Without helping families afford the therapies, all the therapists in the world will be useless.

After the meeting, the committee chairman proudly said the issue was dead for two years because of the House’s “final action” rule.

They may think they can hide behind cowardly rules, but these children are still here; these families are still with us.

Helping families struggling to do right is a value that is woven into most Oklahomans’ hearts.

Knowing that, I cannot understand why those members voting “no” — people who wrap themselves in the phrase “family values” — seem incapable of supporting bills that truly value families.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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