Anna Bullard, a Toombs County backer of a bill called Ava's Law, at the Georgia Capitol Tuesday.
ATLANTA -- Backers of a bill requiring autism coverage in health insurance questioned the legality of a commission to which the bill was assigned this week. The commission was created in a 2011 law, but didn't meet its legal obligation to hold its first meeting nearly a year ago.
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The autism bill, and two other bills, were assigned to the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits. Anna Bullard, a Toombs County mother mother of an eight year old with autism, continued to press her case for the bill's passage this year at the Capitol Tuesday, despite backstage decisions that seemed to shelve it for this legislative session.
"We're saying, please don't send us there, to a committee that isn't even ready," Bullard said.
House Insurance committee chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) told 11Alive News Monday that, by sending the bill to the mandate commission, the autism bill won't get a vote this legislative session. The mandate commission has six months to study a bill assigned to it.
The mandate commission has never met. It has has twenty members. Only four of its appointments have been made public. Senator Tim Golden (R-Valdosta), who wrote the bill creating it, says the mandate commission will thoroughly vet the autism bill. The bill would re-emerge, potentially for legislative votes, in 2014.
But backers of the autism bill are questioning the legality of the commission. "They have yet to meet. Is the law valid?" asked Rep. Ben Harbin (R-Evans), pointing out that the mandate commission law requires that "the first meeting of the advisory commission shall be held no later than March 1, 2012." That was nearly a year ago, and it never happened. Harbin wants the House Insurance Committee, on which he sits, to vote on the bill this legislative session.
"Has the law already been invalidated by the fact that no action was taken last year?" Harbin asked. "It's not like they missed it by a few days. We're talking about an entire year delay."
Golden said the commission's failure to meet, as prescribed by the law he wrote, won't undermine its legality. "Not at all. It's still an important committee that's going to do important work," Golden said.
There is a chance that backers of the bill would challenge the legality of the mandate commission in court. But that, too, would take time, and the legislative session will likely end in early spring.