Miller, Beall to tackle issues

Another effort to provide insurance coverage for autism treatment and a proposal to bring agricultural education to more Iowa students are among the things a pair of Fort Dodge lawmakers will work on this year.

State Sen. Daryl Beall and state Rep. Helen Miller, who are both Democrats, are preparing several bills for consideration during the legislative session that will start Monday.

They are also getting ready to work on the state budget, which is expected to feature a surplus of up to $1 billion. Beall and Miller said they don’t want the state to go on a spending spree.

”I definitely want us to be cautious and not rush out and start a bunch of programs,” Miller said.

Beall said he doesn’t want to see legislators ”splashing money all around the place.”

The senator said he will resume his efforts to provide insurance coverage for an autism treatment called applied behavioral analysis. Inspired by a grandson who has autism, Beall introduced and passed legislation in 2010 that secured such insurance coverage for children of state employees.

Last year, he introduced a bill that would mandate such insurance coverage for all Iowa children. The bill passed the Senate 43-7, but died in the House of Representatives.

Recently, he has been working with state Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, on an autism insurance bill. Heaton is the chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

”I don’t care who gets credit for it,” Beall said. ”I’m working across the Capitol in a bicameral and bipartisan way.”

He and Heaton have had a few meetings with people interested in the issue. The result, according to the senator, will likely be a bill that will earmark $4 million to $5 million for insurance companies that provide the autism coverage.

”That assures insurance companies that their expenses will be paid,” he said.

Beall said the bill will be modeled after a Michigan law.

People with autism have impaired social interaction skills, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual or limited interests.

Beall also plans to introduce a bill that would ensure grandparents have the right to see their grandchildren.

”We have to look at what’s in the best interest of the child,” he said. ”I think there are times when what’s in the best interest of the child includes some contact with the grandparents.”

Miller said she will introduce legislation that would provide incentives for establishing agricultural education programs, especially in Iowa’s urban schools.

”Here we are, the ag state, and we don’t have an ag education program,” she said. ”Kids who live in urban areas just don’t get any access to information about agriculture.”

Miller also intends to again address the issue of managing elderly sex offenders.

Last year, she introduced a bill calling for the appointment of a committee to examine options for a facility to house elderly sex offenders. That bill didn’t become law.

Her legislation was motivated by a 2011 case in which a then 83-year-old registered sex offender living at the Pomeroy Care Center was accused of sexually assaulting a 95-year-old woman who also lived at the center. The registered sex offender was then removed from the nursing home and placed in a state prison.