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Senator Gumm’s “Senate Minute” Column for Week of August 29-September 4, 2008

Hello again, everybody! The biggest battle in the Legislature last session was our fight to require health insurance to cover autism.

Now that campaign season is fully underway, that fight is being played out in campaigns across the state. Dozens of candidates for the Legislature – of both political parties – are announcing their full-throated support for “Nick’s Law,” while those who oppose it are desperately scrambling for any political cover they can find.

Case in point is the dog-and-pony show being conducted by the leadership in the House of Representatives. Keep in mind this is the same leadership team that killed “Nick’s Law” without so much as a vote.

They have commissioned an interim study to look at health care reform. One of their first witnesses was the executive director of a Washington, D.C. group that exists solely to oppose policies like “Nick’s Law.” The term “special interest group” is a pretty accurate description of this organization. This was hardly an unbiased first step for a supposedly fair and balanced study.

It did not have to be this way. The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives made this a partisan fight – and families with autistic children are their victims.

It was not a partisan issue in the Oklahoma Senate, senators from both political parties voted for “Nick’s Law.” In state-after-state, we are seeing elected officials of both political parties put aside partisanship and work together to do the right thing.

Last month, Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill requiring health insurance companies in that state to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism. That new law was written by a Republican and passed the Louisiana Legislature with unanimous support from both parties.

Jindal is one of the national Republican Party’s “rising stars,” and he is not the first high-profile Republican governor to sign autism insurance legislation this year. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed his state’s autism bill, which was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature.

In Pennsylvania, Republican House Speaker Dennis O’Brien championed a measure – which passed the House unanimously and a Republican-controlled state Senate 49-1 – that will allow parents of autistic children to pay for behavioral therapy and related services with private health insurance.

Here in Oklahoma, House leaders could have been heroes to autistic children; we begged them to do so. Some House Republicans publicly say they will vote for the bill – if only given a chance. It is their leadership that is denying them that chance, and denying Oklahoma’s autistic children with a chance to fulfill their potential.

One thing is clear in this battle, which is now being debated in legislative elections across Oklahoma. The position of Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House is not only out-of-step with Oklahoma values, it is out of step with Republicans nationwide, and it is nothing less than shameful.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Editor’s Note: Senator Jay Paul Gumm is serving his second term in the Oklahoma Senate; he was first elected in 2002. A Democrat from Durant, the lawmaker is co-chair of the Senate’s Energy & Environment Committee. Previously, he served a term as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. In 2008, he wrote “Nick’s Law,” a bill that would have required health insurance policies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism in children.

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Sen. Gumm's Office: (405) 521-5586