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Policy Pulse Update

State Budget Update: There is still no budget legislation from the NC Senate. The budget process is moving slower than in previous years, however House and Senate leadership are said to be much closer to agreeing to a spending amount, so we hope to see a budget bill in the next two weeks.

“Crossover” Week Results: The NCGA just finished “crossover week,” a deadline for policy (not budget) related bills to pass through the committee process and then be voted on in either the House or the Senate. Bills that do not pass either the House or the Senate are not eligible for consideration the rest of this session or next year’s short session. Bills with funding, fee, tax implications, redistricting, or recommendations from study committees are exempt from this rule.

Policy Bills

HB 91/SB 103 Behavior Analyst Licensure Bill: Senate Bill 103 made some technical corrections to the original versions was passed by the House on May 12 and is headed to the Governor for signature.

HB 247 School Discipline Changes/Student Conduct bill passed the House on May 6. The bill currently allows schools to more easily suspend and or expel students for non-felony behavior.

  • Removing a section of current statutes that describes violations that ARE NOT considered serious including, “inappropriate or disrespectful language, noncompliance with a staff directive, dress code violations, and minor physical altercations that do not involve weapons or injury” which was originally part of a bipartisan effort to reduce school suspensions and increase graduation rates in NC, changes the law enough to allow for long term suspensions for non-threatening behavior that may be the result from a student’s autism.
  • Not all students with autism and other disabilities have an IEP or 504 designation, which can offer some protection from suspensions that are a result of condition-related behavior under IDEA and state special education laws.
  • It is critical for students to be in their educational environments and in front of instructors for as much time as possible to gain the maximum learning benefit.
  • ASNC will continue to work on improving this bill in the Senate including retention of language supporting keeping students in school.

 

HB 581 Driver’s License Designation/Autism  passed the House on May 12 and moves over to the Senate. Based on input from ASNC and other advocates, a new edition of this bill would have the Department of Motor Vehicles include a designation of autism in the DMV database so that law enforcement could be aware of this information during a traffic stop but would not add a symbol to the driver’s license.

  • During the process of updating the bill, key sections were removed or altered regarding training of law enforcement and allowing individuals to list this designation in their car registration, regardless of the issuing of a drivers’ license.
  • ASNC continues to gather information from stakeholders on the pros and cons of this legislation. We are very interested in the perspectives of drivers who are on the autism spectrum, passengers with autism who do not drive, and any others who would be affected by this legislation.
  • ASNC has concerns about the privacy and/or use of this information in the database and ensuring that law enforcement officers are all trained on autism. Because people may drive multiple cars or are passengers in cars that are not registered to them, we want to make sure that the designation can be easily added to car registrations where someone with autism may regularly travel as a passenger as well.
  • ASNC will continue to work with bill sponsors to improve the legislation when it moves to the Senate.
  • Please contact Jennifer Mahan at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org to share your perspective on these ID/plate/registration/database proposals. All information will be kept confidential and is only used for the purpose of gathering information about various viewpoints on this issue. Thank you in advance.

 

SB 593: Special Education Due Process Hearings  passed the Senate on May 11 and is in the House. This bill would change the state’s process for special education due process appeals ending the practice of appealing cases to a special education Review Officer and allowing for parents to file civil cases in state or federal court following the decision of an administrative law judge. Almost no appeals were won by families using the Review Officer process, and this change allows for a more impartial appeals process in court.

HB 642: Down Syndrome Organ Transplant Nondiscrimination Act – HB 642 prohibits discrimination in the organ transplant process on the basis of mental or physical disability, which would include autism as well as other developmental conditions. It passed the House on May 11 and has moved over to the Senate. This bill is NOT Down Syndrome specific, that is just the condition mentioned in the bill title.  ASNC is in support of this legislation.

HB 657: School Threat Assessment Teams – Passed the House on May 5 and has moved over to the Senate.

  • ASNC has raised concerns about threat assessment teams and the negative impact this could have on ensuring students with autism and other disabilities remain in school and receive the education supports they need. North Carolina already has very high numbers of students who have been placed on “homebound learning” with limited access to education and educational supports and services, OR who have otherwise been removed from the school setting.
  • Previous attempts at implementing similar teams failed when psychological experts named in the legislation indicated they had ethical and professional concerns about participating in a threat assessment process for students. This bill has removed the requirement for them to participate, leaving the decision to “counselors,” school staff, and law enforcement, though it mentions mental health experts reviewing health records in latter parts of the bill. The bill does require compliance with FERPA and IDEA, though how the rest of the law interacts with those is still in question.
  • At a minimum, the bill should require behavioral experts to serve on these teams and adding funding to the bill to compensate professionals on the team for their time and expertise. This would go a long way toward ensuing these teams meet the goal of addressing acknowledged school threats and are less subject to bias against students with disabilities and students of color.

 

Funding Related Bills (NOT subject to crossover)

HB 249 – Children with Disabilities Funding Formula:

  • This bill would direct DPI to study the funding formula for children with disabilities and special education in public schools including the benefits of a model that based funding on the severity of disability type.
  • The bill also increases the cap on the current funding formula for children with disabilities from 12.75% to 13%.
  • The study report would be due to legislative education committees by February 15, 2022.

 

HB 389 and SB 350 North Carolina Innovations Waiver Act of 2021: These companion bills filed in the House and Senate would fund an additional 1,000 Innovations home and community waiver slots including 200 set aside for the development of a tiered waiver to address those with lower acuities using a lower spending cap. The bill additionally requires NC DHHS to convene a stakeholder group to develop a ten-year plan to address the registry of unmet needs aka those waiting for services.

HB 470 and SB 402 are both bills that address the health care coverage gap by increasing access to government health insurance programs like Medicaid.

  • Senate leadership has said it is unlikely that they will consider any bills that expand access to Medicaid for large groups of people, despite additional incentives from the Federal government to states that do extend coverage, including additional funding for home and community-based services like Innovations.

SB 610 Address Direct Support Staffing Crisis/Medicaid Bill

This bill would increase rates paid by Medicaid for ICF/IDDs.

  • ASNC and a large coalition of advocacy groups across aging, IDD and other disability services have been advocating collectively for legislation to raise rates *across* community-based services like Innovations waivers and others.
  • After much discussion this limited bill emerged from the Senate: while ASNC is not opposed to increasing wages to staff in ICF/IDD, most people need support in home and community settings and solely increasing wages/rates in institutional settings adds to the problem of finding good staffing for home and community jobs.
  • Advocates are continuing to work with both Chambers for an appropriation to be included in the state budget that would include rate increases and subsequent wage increases for DSPs across community-based services, like Innovations.

 

HB 882 Behavioral Health Services for Students: This bill would require schools to allow the delivery of evidence based behavioral treatment services, like ABA and RBBHT, by providers from outside the school system, and require insurance companies to cover services delivered during the school day in school environments. Although there is no specific appropriation attached to the bill because it involves funding for Medicaid RBBHT services and affects the state budget, it should not be subject to crossover.

 

HB 914 Support Our Direct Care Workforce: This bill would increase the wages of direct support staff across a variety of Medicaid services including Innovations and other home and community-based waivers, personal care services, ICFs, home health, nursing homes and other behavioral health residential facilities.

  • Medicaid providers would be required to certify that 80% of the increase in provider rates would go directly to increases DSP wages.
  • This increased rate is intended to increase the available direct support workforce through a better ability to pay competitive wages and retain experiences DSPs currently in the workforce.
  • This is KEY to having viable community-based services like those provided in Innovations waivers.

 

Please contact Jennifer Mahan, ASNC Director of Public Policy, jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org for assistance with these issues and other questions about advocacy.   

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