June 7, 2007

Insurance Has To Cover Autism in South Carolina!!

Wow. Wow.

From John Gilmore of A-CHAMP:

A coalition of parents of children with autism have won a stunning victory in South Carolina. Ryan's Law, a bill that will require private insurers to pay up to $50,000 per year for health care and services, including ABA, for people with autism overcame a Governor's veto today to become law. This is a victory of national significance. If this law can pass in South Carolina it can be passed in any state, if we have the organization, drive and fortitude displayed by the parents in South Carolina.

I am speechless in admiration for these indomitable advocates.

Lorri Unumb, the architect of this brilliant campaign, wrote this account of today's events:

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now from multiple sources, “Ryan’s Law” is finally law! Yippee!!! The last 24 hours have been an amazing, incredible roller coaster ride, as have the last 2 years.

As you all know, the governor vetoed our bill after 10:00 last night. (See veto message here: http://www.scgovernor.com/uploads/upload/S.20.pdf)
Despite this late notice, more than 50 of you showed up at the State House first thing this morning, wearing autism shirts, name tags, buttons, and highly visible ribbons made this morning by Margie Williamson (thanks, Margie!) We stood at the top of the State House escalators and accosted every possible legislator to ask for their vote one more time! We even had a little impromptu pep rally in the lobby when Sen. David Thomas, Sen. Joel Lourie, and Rep. Skipper Perry stopped by to thank us for our presence, encourage us, and give us last-minute tips on obtaining the needed 2/3 vote for an override.

The Senate acted on the veto first, probably by 11:00 or so this morning. Sen. Thomas of Greenville asked for unanimous consent to override the veto. There were a few comments and then a real scare when a senator from Anderson asked to hold up the vote for a while. Grumbles and mumbles ensued, and some other senators were clearly frustrated with him. He then backed off a little and said he just needed 2 or 3 minutes to study the governor’s veto statement. Things got confusing, but Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer honored his request, moved on to another bill, and then came right back to our veto issue. Senators Thomas and Malloy then pulled a 1-2 punch and managed to get the veto unanimously overridden without even going through a formal vote. All was said and done before we knew it, so our balcony gang crossed the lobby into the House chamber.

In the House, we waited for a LONG time while the House discussed lots of other matters. Then, I was sure our chance of getting on the agenda was lost when Speaker Pro Tem Smith and Speaker Harrell delivered long, passionate speeches as part of a tiff, shall we say, that’s going on this week between the House and the Senate. At that point, I was afraid we’d get lost in the crossfire and the debates over the two major bills they can’t agree on. Fortunately, our primary sponsors – Skipper Perry this year and Nathan Ballentine last year – pulled the Speaker aside and asked him to please take up the autism bill right before lunch. Speaker Harrell did just that.

Rep. Perry made a brief plea to the members for a quick, clean override. The Speaker was ready to call for a vote, and then another representative rose to speak. My heart stopped, because I had not spoken to this representative and had no idea what he wanted to say. I held my breath as Rep. B.R. Skelton started:
“My mama taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say about a person, you don’t say anything at all. Well, I can’t think of anything nice to say about the governor’s veto of the autism bill.” I breathed a sigh of relief.

He then went on to relate what a constituent had said to him this morning. The constituent, a grandfather who called on behalf of Ryan’s Law and whose identity I don’t yet know, gave Rep. Skelton an ear-full about what he thought of the governor’s veto and questioned whether the governor had ever met a family without health insurance. It was pretty brutal, and it brought audible reactions from the House members. Although I was obviously glad that Rep. Skelton felt moved enough by this constituent’s message to speak on our behalf, I began to worry that the critical words were going to anger the governor’s buddies in the House and backfire. I worried even more when the next speaker to rise was Rep. Jim Merrill, the House Republican Majority Leader and a Sanford friend. Rep. Merrill said he didn’t think we needed to get into personal attacks (a paraphrase; I can’t remember his exact words), but that he thought we should nevertheless override the veto because the parties had worked so hard to reach a compromise on this important issue. With that, the Speaker called the vote. I was prepared for a voice vote (ayes v. nays), but then someone called for a roll call vote. A roll call can be a little dangerous – the governor can see which of his friends cast affirmative votes against his veto – so I got nervous again. As each legislator cast his or her vote, his or her name on the display board changed colors. “Green” meant a vote in favor of the override, and I can’t tell you what color signified a vote to uphold the veto, because there were none! 114 members voted, and, one by one, 114 names turned green on the big board.

And then the tears began to flow. But it wasn’t just Marcella and me crying this time. (Lisa, unfortunately, was in Texas today and didn’t get to witness in person.) My husband beside me started tearing up. Derrick and Sandrine Howle in the front row were crying. Everywhere I looked around in the balcony, a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, a cousin, a friend of a child with autism was weeping. Just then, all members of the House rose to their feet, turned toward us in the balcony, and erupted into applause. They gave us an emotional standing ovation for the tireless efforts of this grassroots gang, and they clearly felt proud of helping us override what some called a “cruel” veto.

Tears, hugs, and celebrations continued in the lobby of the State House, with senators and legislators coming out to greet and congratulate us. So many expressed the sentiment that they were honored to be part of this effort, which to them represented the political system at its purest – citizens petitioning their government for help and succeeding (though not without great difficulty and heartache).

I cannot begin to thank you enough for making this grassroots effort possible. We have worked for two years with no budget and no lobbyist – seemingly impossible conditions in today’s political world. But we had passion, determination, and an incredibly worthwhile cause. Each and every one of you who wrote an e-mail, sent a letter, made a phone call, or visited your legislator made a difference. Like I said above, I don’t even know who the grandfather is that called B.R. Skelton today, but that one call inspired Rep. Skelton to make an impassioned plea on our behalf. You never know which phone call or e-mail made the difference for each legislator, so every one of you is to be commended for every single act you took in support of Ryan’s Law.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not extend my super-special thanks to Lisa & Cliff Rollins, Marcella & Steve Ridley, Derrick & Sandrine Howle, and Dan Unumb, without whose encouragement and advocacy this would have never happened.

I’m not going to plead with you to write any more letters or make any more phone calls, but I’m sure your legislator would love to get a note of thanks if you feel so inspired. They deserve to be thanked for unanimously trumping the governor’s veto less than 24 hours after it was issued.

Although I obviously wish my son Ryan were not struggling with autism, I am today very grateful and honored to be part of this autism community.

With deepest gratitude,
Lorri J

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