House lawmakers want to give families with autistic children a helping hand. They voted Tuesday to continue supporting a few programs that have shown success in Utah.
Republican Representative Rhonda Menlove says a constituent call a few years ago triggered her interest in autism programs. She told her House colleagues that she picked up the phone one day and heard a screaming child in the background as the sobbing mother pleaded for help.
“And she said, ‘Representative Menlove, you need to do something,” the Sunset lawmaker said on the House floor. “ ‘You’re my legislator. How can you stand by and let this happen? Why aren’t you helping us?’ “
Menlove’s bill, HB 88, would build on three pilot programs that have helped autistic children and their families. The programs provided specialized therapy for 373 children between the ages of 2 and 6 last year. They cost between $29,500 and $19,000 per child per year. But the northern Utah lawmaker says the families of those kids report that the programs work.
“Just a few weeks ago I met with three sets of parents in Cache Valley,” she said. “Those parents with tears in their eyes said the very same thing to me. We are able to communicate with our child. Our child looks us in the face. We see our child making progress. Our child is learning. This is a miracle, Representative.”
Menlove’s bill has a price tag of $6.3 million. It would serve just 270 of the Utah children who might benefit from the treatment. That’s a fraction of the children who fall within the autism spectrum.
Meanwhile, Senator Brian Shiozawa has a competing bill in the Senate that would cost millions of dollars less. It would require insurance companies to provide autism treatment coverage. Senator Curt Bramble says it is too early to tell which approach might win the Legislature’s support.
“It will be up to 38 votes in the House and 15 votes in the Senate and the governor’s signature to see which policy, if either, survives.”
Bramble is Senate sponsor of Rep. Menlove’s bill and will be shepherding it through that body.