Lucio Masthead Graphic
July 26, 2007
Contact: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
(512) 463-0385
Legislative Efforts for Autism Treatment Successful

Today in the United States a new child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes at an estimated cost of $95 billion per year. The federal government and many states have taken recent action to mitigate the effects of this epidemic.

During our state's recent legislative session, we proposed a total of 13 bills to benefit autistic children. I authored two of these bills, but unfortunately, only one passed.

I filed Senate Bill (SB) 419, mandating insurance coverage for all autism-related treatments for children ages three to five. Early intervention treatments like speech therapy, occupational therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for children with autism are proven to lead to substantial gains in functional ability, but the treatments are too costly for many parents with autistic children.

SB 419 passed with enormous support in the Senate, and out of the House Committee on Insurance, but like so many other bills, ran out of time in the House. However, I was able to amend most of my bill's content to House Bill (HB) 1919, authored by Rep. Todd Smith (Bedford), stipulating that insurers cover specific treatments for individuals with traumatic brain injuries. Adding my bill to his was risky, but once Rep. Smith learned more about the issue, he was willing to assist by fighting to keep the autism language in his bill. Because of this cooperation, my bill is the only autism-specific legislation that survived the legislative process.

Although the last day of the session was Monday, May 28, the final day for bills to be adopted was Sunday, May 27. HB 1919 was scheduled for a vote in the final hours that bills could be considered, but there was a mass uprising in the House, which shut the chamber down only hours before the final deadline to hear bills.

HB 1919, like so many others, appeared to be "dead." With many key issues still pending, members of the House decided to suspend the rules to hear bills on the final day. At about 8 p.m., HB 1919 was brought up before the full House, but failed to receive the two-thirds needed for a vote. Again, it looked as though the legislative process was going to fail young children with autism. However, upon realizing that the bill was only 10 votes shy, I rushed to the House to advocate for the bill along with Senate sponsor Leticia Van de Putte (San Antonio). With the help of co-authors Rep. John Davis (Houston) and Rep. Juan Garcia (Portland), we were able to explain to many members how much money the bill would save the state and improve the lives of affected families.

Within an hour, Rep. Vicki Truitt (Southlake) asked the full Chamber to reconsider the bill. This time, support was overwhelming. Out of 142 voting, HB 1919 passed with 105 votes. On Friday, June 16, Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 1919 into law.

The treatments allowed under this bill should positively impact children, families and state resources. Modern research and medicine have provided a tangible solution to the growing problem of autism, but their value is dependent on access to treatment. Once our lawmakers see the benefits, coverage may be expanded. Already, I've heard from other states looking to follow Texas' lead.

HB 1919 will increase the number of autistic children who can be mainstreamed in school, but those who need special attention in the classroom setting should not be overlooked. SB 840, another essential piece of legislation addressing autistic children in public schools was also stalled in the House during the final days of the legislative session.

Earlier in the session, parents and teachers approached me concerned that general education teachers and paraprofessionals, who teach students with disabilities, are not receiving the training needed for appropriate instruction and behavioral management of these children. It is equally necessary that both general education and special education teachers learn the new, science-based teaching methods that are evolving.

SB 840 would have directed the Commissioner of Education to develop the training institutes that would help these educators implement research-based practices in their classrooms. Attempts to amend SB 840 to other legislation failed. However, I am determined to file this legislation again next session.

The long-term consequences of the autism epidemic are far from understood, but we do know we can do some things now to reduce the impact. Improving how we treat and teach children with autism is not only important for today's youngsters, but for those of tomorrow who will also bear the consequences if we don't act now.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.