Missouri lawmakers to work on autism, stimulus money

Friday, May 29, 2009 | 2:52 p.m. CDT; updated 3:48 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 29, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers will spend their summer and fall trying to figure out how to provide health insurance to autistic children and deciding where to spend the rest of the state's federal stimulus package.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, House Speaker Ron Richard said he will create an interim panel to decide how to expand insurance coverage for autism. The study group will be tasked with drafting a bill that Richard wants filed Dec. 1 for the 2010 legislative session and approved by the full House in January.

"It's going to come up with a plan for the House. We're done with the studies. We know that it's needed," said Richard, R-Joplin. "We just want to come up with an affordable, attractive plan."

The autism insurance legislation was among the bills that did not pass during the legislative session that ended this month. House and Senate leaders were in the Capitol on Friday to sign bills that now are headed to Gov. Jay Nixon.

One of Richard's family members is autistic, and the lawmaker's family has been involved with advocacy and fundraising for autism.

"We felt that we just left the job undone. And we felt that there is a need for a final solution for the autism spectrum disorder coverage," Richard said of the state House.

A joint House and Senate committee also began work Friday on an evaluation process for how to spend the rest of Missouri's federal stimulus money.

Lawmakers already have authorized expenditures for about three-quarters of Missouri's $4.5 billion share from the stimulus package. They are looking at the potential of funding additional building projects for state agencies and higher education institutions.

But with state revenues in decline, some members of the Joint Committee on Capital Improvements and Lease Oversight suggested Friday that the capital projects should be put on hold and the remaining federal money saved in case it's needed to fill holes in the state's operating budget.

Besides autism insurance coverage and spending stimulus money, the House plans to set up interim groups to examine school drop outs and school performance, rewrite the state's criminal code and evaluate a variety of government reform measures.

The government reform group likely will examine whether to require elections to fill vacancies for most statewide offices instead of allowing the governor to appoint replacements, possible changes to how elections are conducted and other ethics policies.

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