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Medicaid Update!
Thanks to everyone’s advocacy efforts during the 87th Texas Legislative Session, the ABA Medicaid benefit was funded and is finally moving forward! ABA Provider enrollment is now open, and the program is scheduled to start on Feb. 1, 2022. Although the ABA Medicaid benefit did not get the full amount of funding needed, and reimbursement rates are lower than many providers hoped for, we are happy to see expanded therapy options for families who rely on Medicaid for their children with autism. Additional family information on how to access the benefit will be coming soon. Read more here about the process to become a Medicaid provider.
Advocacy Action Alert: Congress Must Include Home & Community Based Services In the Budget

ADVOCACY ACTION ALERT!

Tell Your Members of Congress that Plans for $3.5 Trillion Spending Package Must Include Home & Community Based Services (HCBS)

BACKGROUND 

Medicaid is the largest source of funding for assistance with daily living for people with disabilities. Medicaid Home and community-based services (HCBS) have been grossly underfunded for decades causing long waiting lists and impacting the quality of care. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems.

People with disabilities and older adults have a higher risk of contracting and facing higher risks of complications due to COVID-19. HCBS programs struggled to continue to provide life-sustaining, daily, in-home services in the face of frontline staff shortages with a long history of low wages. These staff shortages and related risks imperil the lives of people with disabilities. Without the immediate and strong leadership of Congress and the Administration, these problems will get worse.

The workforce and earnings losses related to unpaid family caregiving are alarming and well-documented. Investing in HCBS services expansion will enable caregivers to rejoin the workforce as well as stimulate economic growth and job creation. Without the investment in services outlined in the Build Back Better Agenda, family caregivers will have to continue to fill in the huge gaps in the service system.

The temporary 10% increase to the Federal matching rate (FMAP) included in the American Rescue Plan Act is a critical first step to recover and strengthen access to Medicaid HCBS. However, we must build the infrastructure of home and community-based services desperately needed by people with disabilities and older adults now and in the future.

Better Care Better Jobs Act

On June 24, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Better Care Better Jobs Act (S.2210) with 39 co-sponsors. On the same day, Rep. Debbie Dingle (D-MI) introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 4231) with 29 co-sponsors. The bill puts into legislative language the vision within President Biden’s American Jobs Plan to provide a historic $400 billion investment into Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS). (See more details in this fact sheet.)

This week, Senate Democratic leadership announced that they reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that they will move through the reconciliation process. The outline of the legislative package includes numerous priorities that will support people with disabilities, including the investment in Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS).

Congress is deciding right now whether to allocate the full $400 Billion for HCBS that is in President Biden’s Build Back Better recovery plan. The full $400 Billion is necessary to ensure HCBS is accessible and equitable.

ACTION NEEDED:

  • Contact your U.S. Representative/Congressperson & U.S. Senator. To find your U.S. representative/congressperson & senator, visit: https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home
  • Urge them to include and prioritize the $400 billion investment in the infrastructure of Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) as you negotiate the current budget reconciliation package. They must not negotiate away this important investment!
  • Provide personal stories about how HCBS helps you, your family, and your state.
  • Dial 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected with your member of Congress.
Take Action Now! Voting Rights Under Fire in the Special Session

Protect Voting Rights For All!

The Special Session in the Texas Legislature begins on July 8! AST expects that there will be voting bills that have the potential to negatively impact current disability voting rights. Thankfully the discriminatory bill that was proposed (SB 7) in the Regular Legislative Session did not pass. However, advocates expect that bill to be the foundation for the next proposed legislation during this special session.

More people with disabilities voted in the November 2020 election than ever before. The recently proposed voting laws will have unintended and negative effects on the  disability community’s ability to participate in the electoral process. The disability community should not have to provide extra documentation of health status, or be scrutinized and intimidated if needing assistance, or have to overcome any additional barriers in order to exercise their right to vote.

We need legislation that strengthens elections and does not inhibit the vote of people with disabilities and others who have been marginalized in the past.

Action-Who to Contact: 

Contact your own Texas State Senator and Representative, as well as Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan. 

Governor Greg Abbott: (512) 463-1762 or greg.abbott@gov.texas.gov

Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick: (512) 463-0001 or dan.patrick@ltgov.state.tx.us

Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan: (512) 463-0706 or dade.phelan@house.texas.gov

Find your own Texas Senator and House Representative here: https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home 

What to say:

“Don’t inhibit the vote of people with disabilities! Protect disability voting rights!” 

Let them know your concerns about potential new election legislation and that it is critical not to inhibit the right of people with disabilities to vote.

———————

Please note!  You will not be calling your federal representative or senator. (Do not call your U.S. Representative/Congressperson or U.S. Senator).

Let us know if you were successful or if AST Advocacy staff need to do any follow-ups at 512-479-4199 Ext. 10 or advocacy@texasautismsociety.org.

July News

Our July newsletter is out! Check out our new AUTonomy series, Autism Employment Empowerment Day, July 4th event & tips, and new groups!

Read it hereSubscribe here.

Advocacy Updates – Texas 87th Legislature Special Session

Advocacy Updates – Texas 87th Legislature

THANK YOU! Thanks to your efforts, the Autism Society of Texas was successful in several areas during the 87th Legislative session! Below is a summary of bills that became law. 

SPECIAL SESSION begins on July 8! The topics have not yet been designated, but it is expected that voting bills that have the potential to negatively impact disability voting rights will be on the call. Thankfully the discriminatory bill that was proposed (SB 7) in the Regular Session did not pass. However, we expect that bill to be the foundation for the next proposed legislation. Two more special sessions are also expected with one on distributing federal funds and the other on redistricting in the fall. We will keep you updated on new developments!

Budget


HB 1, Rider 21 | Fund the ABA/IBI Medicaid Benefit

HB 1, Rider 21 would ensure the ABA/IBI Medicaid benefit would be funded and that services can begin September 1, 2021.

Final Status:  ABA was included, but at a greatly reduced funding amount. Language was included to ensure that the Health and Human Services Commission would implement ABA services as soon as practicable, but not later than February 1, 2022.

Cannabis Compassionate Use Program


HB 567 | Protects Children Participating in the Compassionate Use Program from Being Removed from Their Home by Child Protective Services

HB 567 adds a new limitation on removals under Family Code, Section 262.116, that testing positive for marijuana use alone is not sufficient for removing a child from his or her home. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB00567F.htm

Final Status:  HB 567 was signed in the Senate and the House, then sent to the Governor. The bill was filed without the Governor’s signature on 5/15/2021, and will go into effect 9/1/2021.

HB 1535 | Expand Texas Compassionate Use Act

HB 1535 expands the list of medical conditions and patients that qualify for low-THC medical cannabis prescriptions, increases the amount of permitted THC in medicines, and creates access for patients with debilitating medical conditions designated by the Department of State Health Services. Read the full bill text here:  https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB01535F.htm

Final Status:  HB 1535 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/15/2021, and will go into effect on 9/1/2021.

Special Education


HB 1252 | Expand Time Limit to Request Special Education Due Process Hearing

HB 1252 would align Texas law with federal law by expanding the statute of special education due process hearings from one year to two years. This would help parents and students with disabilities by expanding their ability to seek redress once they learn what their rights are and makes seeking redress an option available to them. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=HB1252

Final Status: HB 1252 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/15/2021 and will go into effect on 9/1/2021.

HB 2256 | Will Create Bilingual Special Education Teacher Certification

HB 2256 would create a bilingual special education certification to teach students of limited English proficiency with disabilities. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB02256S.htm

Final Status: HB 2256 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/15/2021 and will go into effect on 9/1/2021.

SB 89 | Special Education COVID-19 Recovery Act

SB 89 amends current law relating to supplemental information required for inclusion with a written statement of an individualized education program developed for certain public school students who received special education services during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=SB89

Final Status:  SB 89 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/7/2021 and takes effect immediately.

HB 159 | Improve Teacher Training

HB 159 would improve training and staff development for primary and secondary educators to enable them to more effectively serve all students. The bill would specify what each educator is expected to know and be able to do, particularly with regard to students with disabilities. Read the full bill text here:  https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=HB159

Final Status:  HB 159 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/4/2021 and will go into effect on 9/1/2021.

HB 785 | Annual Reviews of Behavioral Intervention Plans

HB 785 amends the Education Code by revising certain rules related to BIPs for students in special education. HB 785 would require that the parent or guardian be notified in writing if their student with a disability has a change in placement or is restrained, including a description of the incident and whether the student’s BIP should be revised to address the behavior that led to the change or restraint. If the student does not have a BIP, then it should also include information on requesting an ARD committee meeting to discuss the possibility of conducting a functional behavioral assessment and developing a plan for the student. This written notification and a record of how it was sent to the parent or guardian would also be placed in the student’s special education eligibility school records. Read the full bill text here:  https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=HB785

Final Status:  HB 785 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/4/2021 and takes effect immediately.

SB 1697 | Allow Parents to Elect for a Student to Repeat or Retake a Course or Grade

SB 1697 requires that students who received a passing grade or earned credit for a high school course retain their original grade even if they retake the course, unless the school district adopts a local policy to the contrary. It also amends current law relating to allowing parents and guardians to elect for a student to repeat or retake a course or grade. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/SB01697F.htm

Final Status:  SB 1697 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/16/2021 and takes effect immediately.

SB 1716 | Supplemental Funds for Certain Special Education Students

SB 1716 makes permanent the SSES program, so that special education families across Texas have access to additional funding to support their child’s public school education. The filed version of the legislation allows any student in a Texas public school’s special education program to be eligible; however, TEA is directed to give priority to children receiving the compensatory education allotment, those with cognitive disabilities, and those eligible for the alternative STAAR exam. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/SB01716F.htm

Final Status:  SB 1716 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/18/2021 and takes effect immediately.

Healthcare

SB 40 | Allow Health Professionals to Provide Telehealth Services

SB 40 would clarify the authority of the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR)-regulated health professionals (including speech therapists, occupational therapists, and BCBAs) to provide telehealth services in accordance with Chapter 111, Occupations Code; require a reference to a health professional performing “direct” observation of a patient to include provision of telehealth services; and allow TDLR to adopt rules governing telehealth services offered by its regulated professionals. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/pdf/SB00040F.pdf#navpanes=0

Final Status:  SB 40 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/3/2021 and takes effect immediately.

SB 1829 | Provide Electronic Medicaid MCO Directories

SB 1829 requires the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to ensure Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) maintain an accurate electronic directory of contact information for Medicaid recipients enrolled in a managed care plan. MCOs are then required to send an electronic copy of the recipient directory to HHSC monthly to optimize engagement and increase efficiency. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/SB01829F.htm

Final Status:  SB 1829 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/7/2021 and takes effect immediately.

Restraints

Restraints are restrictions that immobilize or reduce the ability of a student to move their torso, arms, legs, or head freely. As we all know from painful recent events, control techniques such as chokeholds and face-to-the-ground (also known as prone restraint) can impede breathing and have deadly consequences. Restraints should not be used in lieu of evidence-based practices such as redirection and de-escalation techniques that all staff working with special populations, such as special education students, have been trained in. You can find our full statement on the death of Xavier Hernandez here: https://www.texasautismsociety.org/statement-on-xavier-hernandez/

Please take action by telling federal legislators to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA) by completing the action alert here: https://takeaction.autism-society.org/autismsocietyofamerica/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=511914

 

SB 69 | Ban Chokeholds and Prone Restraint by Police Officers

SB 69 prohibits officers from applying deadly pressure to a person’s throat, neck, or torso, blocking a person’s nose or mouth, or impeding a person’s circulation unless the officer is protecting themselves or another person from serious bodily injury or death. Read the full bill text here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/analysis/html/SB00069F.htm

Final Status: SB 69 was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/14/2021 and will go into effect on 9/1/2021.

Statement on Xavier Hernandez

Take Action! Tell federal legislators to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA), by completing this action alert.

We at the Autism Society of Texas are saddened by the death of Xavier Hernandez, a 21-year old man with autism who was physically restrained in Boulevard Heights School (Fort Worth I.S.D.) and then later died at the hospital. No individual should die from being restrained, ever. It is especially troubling when this occurs in a place where children and young adults should feel safe and supported. Restraints are restrictions that immobilize or reduce the ability of a student to move their torso, arms, legs, or head freely. As we all know from painful recent events, control techniques such as chokeholds and face-to-the-ground (also known as prone restraint) can impede breathing and have deadly consequences. Restraints should not be used in lieu of evidence-based practices such as redirection and de-escalation techniques that all staff working with special populations, such as special education students, have been trained in. 

Restraining students in Texas schools is not a new or isolated issue. According to a recent Disability Rights Texas report using the most recent available data, Harmful Restraint of Students with Disabilities in Texas Schools, students with disabilities represent approximately 9.8% of the state’s school population, but they experienced 91% of restraints in Texas’ public schools during the 2018-19 school year. Also noted in the report, the use of restraint is an issue of equity and a disproportionate number of children of color are restrained each year in schools all across Texas. Black students make up only 12.6% of the state’s student population, but make up 26.1% of the total restraints. This places disabled students of color at exponentially higher risk of being restrained, and of being injured or killed when these dangerous techniques are used. 

The Texas Legislature has effectively banned seclusion, which was most frequently used in conjunction with restraint. However, while the Texas Legislature has failed to address the use of restraints on school children, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has the ability to provide guidance to school districts on safe alternatives to restraint. Unfortunately, TEA has declined to do so. Luckily for Texas students, a new law (HB 785) has given TEA the directive to address this issue in part, but there is still so much work to do. In addition, each school district in Texas has the ability to stop chokeholds and prone restraint by directing and training their staff in safe alternative techniques. The passage of a law is not necessary for school districts in Texas to ban these practices – only the desire to protect students and acknowledge the disproportionality of the use of this practice on students with disabilities and students of color. Lastly, a recent bill (SB 69) signed by Governor Abbott in June eliminates the use of chokeholds and other similar neck restraints by law enforcement officers, including School Resource Officers (SRO’s), in acknowledgment that this practice is unacceptable and can result in asphyxiation. 

Our thoughts are with Xavier’s family and those left to mourn his tragic loss. We must take these thoughts and turn them into action. We absolutely must ensure that any person responsible for teaching and providing support to students with disabilities, especially individuals with autism, refrains from using these dangerous techniques. Therefore, we call on:

  • Every school district to ban the use of chokeholds and prone restraints of all students and ensure every staff member is trained in alternative safe techniques;
  • The TEA to provide clear guidance to all Texas school districts on alternatives to using restraints in both agency rule and in the next Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) plan; and
  • Governor Abbot to issue an executive order to ban the use of chokeholds and prone restraints in public schools, which aligns public school practices with the recently signed SB 69, eliminating the use of chokeholds and other similar restraints.

This is not just a problem in Texas. It is a nationwide concern, and the Autism Society of America is working in conjunction with all of its affiliates to pass the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA), which would make it illegal for any school that receives federal funds to seclude a child or use dangerous restraint practices that restrict breathing, such as chokeholds or prone restraint. To help in supporting KASSA, please complete this action alert.


The Autism Society of Texas (AST) works to improve the quality of life for all Texans with autism by offering innovative, person-centered support to people impacted by autism and their families. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects 1 in 54 Texans, as well as their parents, caregivers and friends. We offer assistance through a myriad of services and programs related to advocacy, recreation, education and support. We work in partnership with our community, seeking input from individuals with autism to advise our decision-making and offering comprehensive education and training so that communities may become more inclusive. 

Resources:

Stop Hurting Kids: https://www.stophurtingkids.com/faqs

Civil Rights Data Collection: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/restraint-and-seclusion.pdf 

Are there Better Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint?: https://www.cmhnetwork.org/news/are-there-better-alternatives-to-seclusion-and-restraint/

These schools did away with seclusion and restraint: https://www.chicagotribune.com/investigations/ct-seclusion-restraint-alternatives-grafton-20200413-bfw7u2srpbao3pffhcjdnhr2qq-story.html 

Contact the Autism Society of Texas at advocacy@texasautismsociety.org or (512) 479-4199, Ext. 10.

June News

Check out what’s happening in June! Our Texas Autism Bike Ride & Fun Run wraps up on 6/5, we’re presenting at the Texas Autism Virtual Conference, sign up now for our job fair- calling all attendees and employers, and save the date for AutFest Texas in October!

Read the June newsletter here. Subscribe here.

May News

Check out our May newsletter here. Subscribe here!

AutFest Texas: Coming this October!

We are thrilled to announce the return of our in-person autism film festival, AutFest Texas, this October! Mark your calendars! We’ll be hosting the event in Austin at AFS Cinema, in Houston at The Monarch School, in the DFW area  at Studio Movie Grill (Spring Valley location), and a Virtual AutFest with a streaming link to view for a week! (Viewers can watch from the comfort of their own home, from anywhere!) As in past years, the films will be about autism or made my autistic filmmakers! The event is recommended for those 18 and up due to some of the content and themes in the films.

We will follow local, state, and federal COVID-19 safety guidelines in place at the time of the events. Should there be another COVID-19 outbreak, murder hornets, or any other unforeseen natural disaster, events may move to virtual/online only.

Sponsorship opportunities for AutFest Texas are now available here! More information about all of our events can be found here here or contact jacquie@texasautismsociety.org.

Please save the date and plan to join us!  Tickets will go on sale in July, stay tuned!

Final Hurdle! Four Bills Need Your Help!

First! Congratulations!  Your hard work has paid off and these two bills were sent to the Governor yesterday and are set to become law! 

After 3 sessions (6 years!!), HB 159 – improved teacher training so teachers learn specifics of how to work with all disabilities including how to make accommodations, best practices for each disability, etc, has been sent to the Governor. SB- 89– also known as the COVID-19 Special Ed. Recovery Act has also been sent to the Governor to become law! Wow and Thank You!

FOUR BILLS NEED YOUR HELP *TODAY*-TUESDAY 5/25/21! 

They are at the “final hurdle” and need a push across the finish line! Please call or email!

Action:

Please call the Lt. Governor’s office first and your own Texas State Senator or as many Senators as you can. Senate Directory.

Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick: (512) 463-0001 or dan.patrick@ltgov.state.tx.us

Find your Texas State Senator here: https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home

What to say for all bills:

“The following bills are very important to the Autism Community. Please bring these bills up on the Senate floor and send them to the Governor’s office to become law- HB 1252, HB 1535, HB 2256, and HB 3880 .”  (See bill descriptions below).

HB 1252 | Will extend time to file a due process complaint from one year to two years

This bill would align Texas law with federal law by expanding the statute of special education due process hearings from one year to two years. Full bill text can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB01252S.htm

HB 1535 | Will expand the TX Compassionate Use Program Expansion (TCUP) for Medicinal Marijuana

This bill expands the Texas Compassionate Use Act and supports those who need safe, legal access to medical cannabis. Full bill text can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB01535S.htm

HB 2256 | Will create Bilingual Special Education Teacher Certification 

This bill would create a bilingual special education certification to teach students of limited English proficiency with disabilities. Full bill text can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB02256S.htm

HB 3880 | Will reform Dyslexia intervention standards and strategies-Provides Full & Comprehensive Eval. Under IDEA

HB 3880 would help bring Texas into compliance with federal law by guaranteeing students with dyslexia the right to a full evaluation of their needs under IDEA, rather than just a dyslexia-only evaluation. Full bill text can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/html/HB03880S.htm

If the above four bills pass this is a huge win for individuals with autism and other disabilities! Other bills set to become law: HB-785, the BIP Bill (Behavior Intervention Plans must be reviewed annually in the IEP) and SB-40- reimbursement for telemedicine for therapies! Keep calling, it’s making a difference! 

If you need help, or if any offices have questions or need follow up, please contact us at advocacy@texasautismsociety.org or (512) 479-4199, Ext. 10. Thank you!