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Legislation to make autism services more accessible on the fast track at the General Assembly

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Bipartisan Senate and House bills would follow lead of other states in licensing behavior analysts
It’s difficult to imagine that a child being diagnosed with autism could bring relief to parents, but that’s what happened to Kyle Robinson and his wife, Bonnie. 
Their son Samuel was 18 months old when he was diagnosed in 2011. It provided critical answers to questions the Robinson had about developmental issues Samuel was experiencing. It also helped them to pinpoint the kind of ongoing services Samuel, now 9, would need.  
“When we got that diagnosis of autism, it was a relief because now, we thought, we can help our son,” said Kyle Robinson, director of basketball operations at East Carolina University in Greenville. 
What the Robinsons didn’t know at the time was that services for children with autism were scarce to non-existent in Pitt County. 
The region was a desert for professionals trained in applied behavior analysis (ABA), a type of therapy that can improve social, communication and learning skills in children with autism through positive reinforcement. The therapy is considered by many experts to be the gold-standard treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental conditions.  
“Before we had autism impact us directly, we really didn’t know the various issues that families with children with autism have,” Kyle Robinson said. 
Samuel Robinson
To get the ABA services for Samuel that he required, Bonnie had to give up her teaching job in Winterville.  
On Sunday afternoons, Bonnie and Samuel would hop into the family’s car for a 200-mile trek west to Winston-Salem where Samuel spent the week attending the ABC of NC Child Development Center for Autism.  
The private nonprofit center provides therapeutic and educational services for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. 
Those were not easy times for the Robinsons, but Kyle Robinson counts his family among the lucky ones in North Carolina who despite limited access, found quality, therapeutic care for their child. 
“We’ve met other families who haven’t been so lucky,” he said. “The lack of care, especially in a region like eastern North Carolina is difficult for families.“ 
He believes the luck of such families is about to change because of a bill working its way through the General Assembly that would no longer require behavior analysts working in the state to be supervised by licensed psychologists.
New licensing bills win overwhelming approval
Supporters of House Bill 91 believe that removing the requirement will make North Carolina more attractive to behavior analysts who care for children with autism. That, in turn, will make ABA services more accessible to families in rural areas, they contend. 
HB 91 is sponsored by Rep. John Bell, a Republican from Goldsboro.  
Companion legislation, Senate Bill 103, would establish licensure requirements for behavior analysts, as well as a licensing board that would bring North Carolina in line with how most other states operate. 
“We think this will open the floodgates as we move forward to give them [children with autism] more opportunity for care, especially in rural areas,” said State Sen. Jim Perry, a Republican from Kinston who co-sponsored SB 103. 
Perry made his comment Monday during a meeting of the Senate Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee where the bill received a favorable hearing. The bill was approved by the full Senate 48-0 on Tuesday. HB 91 passed the House 117-0 on Wednesday.
There are only 62 psychologists to oversee the work of roughly 680 people who could provide care for the state’s 65,000 children with autism, Perry said. 
Virginia has more than twice as many behavior analysts – 1,500 – as North Carolina. They are licensed and board–certified. And unlike in North Carolina, the behavior analysts can work independently. 
“In Virginia, we do practice independently without supervision from anyone as long as you’re licensed and that works very well for us,” said Christy Evanko, administrative director of the Virginia Association for Behavior Analysis. “We feel that that opens the field and helps more people to be served as well as encourages more people to become certified in our state.” 
Former Rep. Chuck McGrady
In many legislative sessions, former Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, introduced bills to allow North Carolina analysts to work independently. The bills often received bipartisan support in the House but quickly stalled after moving to the Republican-controlled Senate. 
McGrady, who retired from politics last year, said his Senate colleagues found it politically impossible to support the bills he introduced. 
“I think there’s a general dislike of licensure,” McGrady said. “The feeling is that licensure is used to keep people from competing with other people for jobs, and I get that, I was a Republican legislator. But sometimes, the opposite proves the rule, and this is one of those times.”
McGrady explained that not having a licensure process has stifled competition by making the state unattractive for behavior analysts.
That has caused children with autism in North Carolina to go underserved, he said. 
“They [behavior analysts] can go to Greenville, South Carolina and not be required to be supervised by a medical doctor or a psychologist whereas in North Carolina, they’ve got to operate under someone else,” McGrady said. “The insurance companies will pay the psychologists who then pays the analysts but [insurance companies] won’t pay the behavior analysts directly. For people who are well-trained, it’s easier to go to another state.”  
Rep. Zack Hawkins
Durham lawmaker speaks from a place of experience
Rep. Zack Hawkins, (D-Durham), didn’t hesitate to throw his support behind HB 91 and SB 103. Hawkins and his wife, Tracey are parents to two young sons, James Paterson and Adam, diagnosed with autism.
“The gravity of what that means for families is quite daunting,” Hawkins said. “It’s an unforgiving disorder in many ways, both for the child and the family.” 
After James Paterson and Adam were diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum, the Hawkins found their busy lives suddenly interrupted. 
“It hit us like a ton of bricks that if we are stretched, what are other families doing that have no services or are too poor to afford services,” Hawkins said.  
Fortunately for them, Durham has abundant resources, and their sons have not been without care. 
But Hawkins said all families deserve access to the services to help children with autism, regardless of where they decide to live. 
“If we keep this current model, there will be so many families that will continue to have to worry about transportation to get services or they’ll have to move to an urban area,” Hawkins said. “If you want to live in a small town, a place like Chocowinity (his hometown), you should be able to do that and have the same quality of life as you do in Durham.” 
In 2014, the Robinsons took matters into their own hands.  
The couple founded Aces for Autism, a nonprofit treatment and educational center in Greenville that serves children with autism, regardless of ability to pay. 
According to the Aces for Autism’s website, caring for a child with autism can be devastating for families. The divorce rate is two times greater for parents raising a child with autism and caregivers are more likely to turn to alcohol or substance abuse to cope. 
Through Aces for Autism, Kyle Robinson says he’s met parents who are struggling to manage older children with autism. The job is toughest for parents whose children didn’t get ABA services at a young age. 
“We’re getting families that now their son is 12, 13 or 14 years old and they’re coming to us and have never received services whatsoever,” Kyle Robinson said. “Research has shown that the best time to start is when the child is young.” 

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Democrat Joel Ford, straddling the political fence between right and left, elected to conservative UNC Board of Governors

Former State Sen. Joel Ford, appointed Wednesday to the UNC Board of Governors
Former State Sen. Joel Ford was elected to the UNC Board of Governors Wednesday, becoming the conservative-dominated board’s only Democrat.
The N.C. Senate chose Ford to replace Darrell Allison, who stepped down from the board to become the new chancellor of Fayetteville State University.
Ford is in some ways a surprising choice for a position on the governing board of the 17-campus UNC System. While former state lawmakers have often been given board seats, the Republican majority does not usually consider Democrats. Ford will be the only Democrat on a board entirely composed of Republicans and unaffiliated people with strong conservative ties. There are 24 voting members on the Board of Governors.
In an interview with Policy Watch Tuesday, Ford said he didn’t realize there were no other Democrats on the board. “Wow,” Ford said. “I guess if confirmed you can reclassify me as a unicorn.”
Ford is an atypical Democrat, often at odds with his own party during his six years in the General Assembly.
“I’m more of a moderate centrist,” Ford said. “I believe I’ve proven myself to be an independent thinker. I supported what I wanted to support and didn’t support what I didn’t. I think that’s rare in this environment of hyper-partisanship.”
Notably, Ford is a supporter of charter schools —- an issue that divides Democrats but made Ford allies on the political right.
He was also a sponsor of the 2018 voter ID bill later blocked by a federal court that found it to be at least partially motivated by racial discrimination. He was the only Senate Democrat to join Republicans in a vote to overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the bill. In blocking the voter ID law, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs noted that Ford admitted in a deposition that he considered switching parties around the time the bill was passed.
“There has been a lot of assumptions about that,” Ford said. “I want to make it clear that I am still a registered Democrat.”
Ford has also had a fraught relationship with the LGBTQ community. In 2016 he was one of the few Democrats to support a Republican bill to allow magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages.
He was conspicuously absent during the vote on HB2, the controversial law that banned local governments from adopting anti-discrimination rules that include LGBT people. He later said he would support repeal, but clashed with fellow Democrats — including Gov. Roy Cooper — on how to accomplish it.
HB2 originated in reaction to a local ordinance in Ford’s home town of Charlotte, where the city council extended greater legal protections to LGBT people. Ford said he supported the ordinance but not the controversial provision that would have allowed people to choose public bathrooms that match their gender identity. Ford sponsored a bill to repeal HB2 that included a moratorium on local non-discrimination ordinances and was one of the few Democrats to support putting LGBT protections to local referendum votes.
Those stances hurt Ford in his run for mayor of Charlotte in 2017, when he came third in a field of five in the Democratic primary. In 2018 he lost the Democratic primary for his District 38 Senate seat to Mujtaba Mohammed, who went on to win the seat.
Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed
On Wednesday, Mohammed spoke in support of Ford’s board of governors nomination before the Senate vote.
“I know that many of you know Joel and I have had our differences and we may not agree on everything,” Mohammed said.
But as a former state Senator who represented UNC-Charlotte and a graduate of N.C. A&T, Ford has a love for the UNC System and historically black colleges and universities, Mohammed said.
“It’s because of that love and advocacy and diversity of that representation and experience that I know Joel Ford will bring…that’s why I ask for his support and I ask for you to join in allowing Senator Ford to serve our community to the best of his capacity and be a champion for our UNC System, our HBCUs and UNC-Charlotte,” Mohammed said.
Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) also supported Ford’s nomination.
“He will be an outstanding member of that board,” Rabon said. “As you all know, Joel speaks his mind and has an ability to get along with people on both sides of the aisle and help with his background the board that he’s going to represent.”
Despite being a former chairman of the Mecklenburg County’s Democratic Party, Ford said, he never saw service in the General Assembly through a partisan lens.
“I value my independence more than my political affiliation,” Ford said. “If you look at my record of service and support for legislation, it reflects that. It becomes easy to pick aside. It’s easy to go to the blue corner or the red corner.” That wasn’t a political asset in the current environment, Ford said.
“I believe when you have districts that are drawn the way that they’re drawn, you have two extremes — either super blue/liberal or super red/conservative districts,” Ford said. “And those kinds of districts turn out those kinds of elected officials. So there is very little room for moderates to centrists. I was clearly elected by a Democratic constituency, but I have more of a moderate to centrist viewpoint. I believe the toxicity — political toxicity — contributed to wanting someone of a more ideological manner. And I lost.”
But that same independence — coupled with his experience in the General Assembly — could be an asset on the board of governors, he said.
“Having served in the General Assembly, I do believe it could be a positive contribution just based upon the nature of the work,” Ford said. “From working on education to Senate Appropriations, that and my independent thinking … to me, that can only be a plus.” Until he is actually confirmed, Ford said it was premature to talk specifics about the board and what he might do there. “I am very appreciative and humbled by the opportunity to serve the state in this capacity,” Ford said. “But until there’s a confirmation, it’s just an idea.”
Also elected to the board Wednesday were current members Art Pope and Jimmy Clark as well as the current board chair, Randy Ramsey, who were reappointed. New board members include Lee Roberts, an investment partner and budget director under former Gov. Pat McCrory; Chapel Hill real estate developer Kirk Bradley; and and Sonja Nichols, a security services firm president from Charlotte. Nichols, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for the District 37 state Senate Seat held by Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg).

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WPVM General Manager A Hit In New York

Davyne Dial, WPVM general manager, was a recent guest speaker at the Grassroots Radio Conference in Rochester, New York. Her topic, “Social Media Savvy,” showed her audience how to incorporate live video to Facebook, cameras, smart phones, and mics to capture action or live programming. Davyne also explained to the radio station attendees how to use social…