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Rolly: Once upon a time GOP wanted to help autistic kids

Published March 1, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rep. Ronda Menlove has fought for years to get some state funding to treat children with autism, and she has been well-armed with statistics that show the right treatment early on can make a substantial difference in a child's quality of life.

But Menlove, R-Garland, has struggled to get her fellow Republicans in the Legislature to recognize the need for funding the treatment, and she has had to settle for crumbs that will reach about 10 percent of those Utah children in need.

The best the Legislature seems willing to do is provide about $2 million to treat about 200 children who would be chosen for the program through a lottery.

They will be the winners. Ninety percent of the children with special needs will be the losers.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, also sees the need to help children with autism and is running a bill that would require state regulated insurance companies to cover autism in their policies. Because that would also cover state employees, that would cover about 60 percent of Utah families.

His bill passed the Senate Friday, but there already is resistance from insurance company lobbyists forming in the House.

The bottom line is that while the Legislature has budged a little bit after years of lobbying by special-needs advocates, it still demonstrates an unwillingness to invest enough to improve the lives of children with autism and other special needs.

But the Utah Republican Party — whose banner cloaks more than 80 percent of the Legislature — was the great champion of special needs kids when political points were to be made.

In other words, Republicans have not put their money where their mouths were.

In 2006, after several failed attempts to pass bills giving tax credits to parents to help pay tuition in private schools, the advocates of the tax credit, or voucher, plan targeted several Democrats who consistently voted against those bills.

But those advocates, mainly Parents for Choice in Education, played their cards with a sleight of hand.

The flurry of mailers attacking about a half dozen Democratic legislators in 2006 were sent by the Utah Republican Party. But they really were produced and funded by Parents for Choice in Education. And they attacked the Democrats for everything except their votes against the voucher bills.

One of the attack pieces chastised the Democratic legislators for voting against the Carson Smith bill, which provides scholarships to special needs children enrolled in private schools.

The fliers, sent to several legislative districts with only the name of the Democratic incumbent changed to fit the district, claimed that the particular legislator "doesn't support families with special needs children."

One of the Democrats targeted by that flier was then Rep. Carl Duckworth, D-Magna, the grandfather of a special needs child. Another was then-Rep. Jim Gowans, D-Tooele, the father of a special needs child and the driving force behind the opening of a school dedicated to special needs children when he was superintendent of the Tooele School District.

Most of the Democrats at that time voted against the Carson Smith bill because they suspected it was a back-door attempt to get vouchers introduced as Utah policy.

The Republican Party, however, painted a picture of Republicans weeping for the disabled, doing everything they could for them, and being undermined by the evil Democrats trying to undermine efforts to help the kids with special needs.

Once the campaign was over, and now that the voucher debate has been settled by a ballot initiative in 2007, the great passion toward kids with autism and other disabilities has turned into crocodile tears. —