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Autism coverage Bill passes House

Brandon Moseley



By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Thursday, April 20, 2017, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 284.

HB284 extends coverage for Autism therapy and ensures access to those services for low-income families, passed out of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.

HB284 was sponsored by state Representative Jim Patterson (R-Meridianville). Patterson said, “This is why we come to Montgomery: to make a difference in people’s lives. If we can get therapy to autistic children when they are two to three years old, that they will be more ready to start school and do well and the more likely that they can succeed in school and in life.” A tearful Rep. Patterson told reporters, “This is not my bill. This comes from above. This is why you come down here. To do what is right.”


The original version of the bill just ordered health insurance companies to provide Autism therapy coverage as part of medical insurance (currently they do not), but Patterson said, “Over half of the children in Alabama are actually insured by the State of Alabama through the All Kids program.”

The State of Alabama uses Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBSAL) to provide medical, and mental health and substance abuse services through their preferred provider network (PPO). ALL Kids is Alabama’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and is administered by the Alabama Department of Public Health. Legislators had some debate as to why children who were getting through a state program were not already receiving autism treatment coverage and many felt that they should have been getting the coverage now; but they aren’t so Rep. Patterson amended his bill from the floor of the House to make certain that low income kids on ALL Kids get autism treatment coverage as well.

Rep. Patterson said that Alabama would be joining 45 other states who requires that medical insurance have such coverage for Autistic children. Rep. Patterson said: I don’t like to dictate to companies how to do their business; but this is insurance and dictating to them to offer this

Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) told Patterson. I want to thank you for bringing this bill. I have friends that spent $40,000 out of their own pocket for Autism therapy. It is disappointing that we are one of the last five states to cover this.”

Dozens of families with autistic children flooded the statehouse on Thursday to lobby for the bill. Rep. Patterson acknowledging the families (most of them wearing red T-shirts promoting Autism coverage) in attendance in the gallery said, “This is not my bill this is the people up there in the galleries bill.”

There was a lot of concern about how much this is going to cost.

State Representative Phil Williams (R-Hintsville) said on Facebook, “We are debating a bill that will mandate unlimited coverage for Autism.If this bill ever became law, your policy would we immediately modified to cover a wide spectrum of autistic related disease. So far there is no meaningful discussion of who pays for this. No one is really sure what it will cost.”

State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) said that passing this could be a $2.5 million to $19 million increase to the State employees insurance costs. It would also affect the teacher’s insurance through PEEHIP. This could cost CHIP (the ALL Kids program) $17.5 million a year. Currently the federal government is picking up almost all of the cost of CHIP (the ALL Kids program), but if we go back to an 80 percent federal: 20 percent state match as part of federal health care reform then this could cost the state $3.5 million.

Clouse if the Ways & Means General Fund Committee Chairman and said, “This did not go through the General Fund committee.” “We don’t know what is going to happen federally with healthcare.” “If we are back here in the summer (in a Special Session) dealing with the CHIPs program we have to have more money.”

Rep. Patterson said that based on Louisiana, when they added this our costs would go up only 62 to 92 cents per month per insure. “That is not too much to pay to do the right thing.”

To address the cost concerns State Representative Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) added an amendment to the bill stating that: If insurance premiums rise more than 1 percent in a year and the independent audit determines that the Autism coverage is responsible for the rate increase; then the business can opt out of the Autism coverage. Williams’ amendment would also cap the amount of Autism service coverage each Autistic child cold receive a year. Since therapy has most benefit to small children the Williams amendment would pay up to $40,000 per year for Autism treatment for the youngest children and then declines on a sliding scale for older children.

Rep. Williams said, We are paying for it (Autism) now thru the Education Trust Fund and we are not getting the results that we need. Only 1 out of 8 children with Autism receive treatment now.

Rep. Patterson said that Auburn University and Jacksonville University have excellent programs to train Autism therapists; but their graduates are leaving this State and practicing in other states because we don’t have coverage. This bill would also be creating job opportunities across Alabama.

Patterson said that, “If children get treatment early they may need some help in transitions to school, from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to the job market; but other than that they will be able to live productive lives and be quite successful. This would be taking a tremendous burden off of the Educational Trust Fund by treating this early rather than waiting and then having to offer special education services throughout school with a less favorable outcome.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) said in a statement, “I am ecstatic that all children, regardless of their parents income, will now have access to these essential services. Autism does not discriminate and neither should we.”

Rep. Daniels sponsored the amendment that requires the coverage be made available to low-income families through the Alabama Medicaid Agency.

At a meeting of the Insurance Committee last week, Rep. Jim Patterson, who is the sponsor of HB284, supported the amendment as did Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) and Louise Alexander (D-Bessemer) and a number of Republican Legislators.

Daniels said, “Getting this Legislation passed for children around the state is a great reminder of the difference we can make when we work together.”

The bill passed 100 to 0 and now moves to the Senate for consideration. At this point it appears that the bill will be assigned to the Senate Health Committee.

There still is no coverage in Alabama for ADHD treatment.


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In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley



By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”


Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.


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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison



By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.


The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison



By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.


Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Autism coverage Bill passes House

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 6 min