Autism, medical cannabis bills to reappear in January

mlee@macon.comApril 2, 2014 

Surrounded by state senators, Lyons mom Anna Bullard speaks at a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol.

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    Ava Bullard, the namesake of “Ava’s Law” autism insurance legislation earlier this year, is scheduled to lead the second annual A Journey for Autism ride Saturday at 8 a.m., sponsored by Central Georgia Autism Ltd. and local cycle team Big Ring Racing.
    Proceeds from the ride benefit CGA’s programs and scholarships for therapy.
    Riders from beginner to advanced can choose their destination course of 33, 66 or 100 miles.
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ATLANTA -- State Senate leaders marked Autism Awareness Day at the Capitol on Wednesday with a pledge to renew failed pediatric autism legislation and regrets about the related failure of a medical cannabis measure.

“We remain committed to joining the 35 other states that offer treatment options for children” who have autism spectrum disorders, Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said.

He was lamenting the March failure of Senate Bill 397 by state Sen. Tim Golden, R-Valdosta, which would have required insurance companies to cover treatment for pediatric autism. According to new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 68 U.S. children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Early treatment is both compassionate and a long-run money savings, said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, a supporter of the proposal.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill, but it never got a hearing in the House Insurance Committee. It’s first subject to Georgia’s Mandate Study Commission, which has until January to hold hearings and make recommendations, said the chair of both, state Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus.

Lyons mother Anna Bullard said her daughter Ava benefitted from the kinds of therapy the Senate wants covered.

Now 9 years old and in the fourth grade, Ava is “in the top of her class,” said Bullard, who has been lobbying on the subject since 2009. The bill is informally called “Ava’s Law.”

“We feel like we have the votes in the (full) House ... if we actually get a vote on the table,” Unterman said.

Facing House inaction, Unterman tried tying Ava’s Law onto several bills in her Health and Human Services Committee, including one by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. His mission this year was House Bill 885, which would have given families legal immunity if they possessed a liquid medicine derived from cannabis that treats severe pediatric seizures.

The Senate approved the merger, but the House then treated the enlarged HB 885 with about the same inaction as Ava’s Law. The Senate responded in kind to the standalone medical cannabis bill.

Peake, who supports Ava’s Law, blamed the tie-up for killing his otherwise popular measure.

“I’m sorry for the way things worked out with the bills. But I also know that the autism folks for five years now, they have been working on this one particular issue and we want to take care of all children, not a specific segment,” Unterman said Wednesday.

Peake is looking toward next year.

“I’m eager to work with the lieutenant governor and Sen. Unterman and the entire Senate to make sure we get a good medical cannabis bill done early next session.”

All 236 lawmakers are up for re-election this year. The next legislative session starts in January.

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