Riley Ward autism bill passes state senate

Published 3:34 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

As more than 200 parents of Alabama’s children looked on, the State Senate temporarily suspended its filibustering Thursday to allow for consideration of the Riley Ward Act of 2009.

The Senate passed the bill, which moves to coordinate the state’s efforts to help autistic children.

It now goes to Gov. Bob Riley’s desk for his signature.

The bill is named after its sponsor’s daughter, Riley Ward, 6, of Alabaster, who has autism, said her dad, State Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

“When we were considering the bill in the house (State Rep.) Mike Hill (R-Columbiana) tacked on an amendment naming it after her,” Ward said.

Ward led efforts to push the bill through the house and state senate, which will set up a statewide council on autism and hire a state autism coordinator.

“There are nine agencies in the state that actually provide services for people with autism,” Ward said. “Sometimes they work together, sometimes they duplicate services. The problem is, they don’t always talk to each other. This bill creates a council that will have on it a member from each of those state agencies to help coordinate the work they are doing.”

The council will also oversee all autism policy in Alabama and the bill will allow for the hiring of a state autism coordinator. Ward said his bill was modeled after one in place in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a good day,” he said. “More than 200 parents, half of whom have never been to the state house, some of them with their children, personally walked up to their state legislators and asked them to support this bill. That’s one of my favorite things.”

As soon as the Riley Ward Act was passed, the state senate resumed its filibustering.