Autism bill in Georgia finally overcomes hurdle after seven long years

Atlanta — Georgia State Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) finally gave in and agreed to compromise after consistently blocking a bill that aims to make insurance coverage for children with autism a requirement in the state.

The bill— called Ava’s Law, named after a 10-year-old child with autism from Toombs County— was intended to help children on the spectrum in the state to receive aid via insurance coverage.

Smith, as the chairman of the House insurance committee, has always been considered the biggest hurdle in the passing of the bill. Smith consistently opposed Ava’s Law as he viewed the bill as a ‘burden’ to small businesses in the state.

The state legislator’s change of heart only came after the state senate started ignoring bills backed by Smith and the House Insurance Committee, virtually leaving him no choice but to compromise.

Smith acknowledges, however, that the strongarm tactic used by the state senate against him is not something out of the ordinary; it, in fact, happens every year in the legislature.

Ava’s mother, who tirelessly lobbied for the bill for the past seven years, was ecstatic. Shortly before giving Smith a hug, she said:

“I can’t take it. It’s unreal. It’s unreal. It’s been seven years.”

During the announcement, Smith expressed frustration over the “flack” he said he had been getting for opposing Ava’s law, but said that he was excited that a compromise was finally reached. He told:

“I’m not that ogre everybody thinks I am. I have compassion for these people.”

Contributed by Althea Estrella Violeta

Source: 11Alive Staff and Doug Richards: 11 Alive Atlanta:  Autism bill gets new life in legislature