Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Battle for These Children, Their Families, Our Future

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! Now that the ceremony surrounding the first week of the annual legislative session is behind us, the nuts-and-bolts work of the people’s business has taken center stage.

In both the Senate and House of Representatives, committees are wading through all the bills that were introduced for 2008, as well as hundreds of “holdover” bills from 2007. As I have written before, the committee process is one of the ways in which large numbers of bills are killed – many of them before they even have a chance for life.

That is the nature of the political process, and that reality has been made even more severe because of the divided nature of the Legislature. Neither political party has an iron grip on the legislative process, meaning that for any bill to become law it must gain bipartisan support.

In an election year, in which both parties are vying for political power, gathering up bipartisan support often becomes a more difficult proposition.

A bill that did win committee approval is one that begins what will be a comprehensive assault on autism. The Senate Education Committee passed legislation encouraging school districts to include a special emphasis on autism as part of professional development program for special education teachers in the district.

As I have shared with you before, currently one in every 150 children is diagnosed with autism. If this were some traditional malady – like small pox or polio – parents would be storming the Capitol demanding action. Despite that, some still oppose efforts to ensure state law reflects the reality of autism.

Parents of children with autism ringed the room as the committee considered the bill, which passed on a bipartisan 11-1 vote. The amazing thing to me was that one senator could oppose this common-sense measure. The bill is a first step in what many of us in the Senate hope to do to assist families struggling with autism.

I have strong hopes that when the dust settles from this session, we will have enacted policies that help the children and families of autism. The challenges they face are more difficult than most of us can imagine – but this is an epidemic we must address as soon as possible in a proactive manner.

To do anything less is, in my judgment, simply irresponsible. So, the battle is on – a battle for these children, their families and our future. It is a battle that reminds me why I first wanted to serve in public office, and why I am honored to be your voice in the Oklahoma Senate.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week and may God bless you all.

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