Wednesday, April 2, is Autism Awareness Day.
I can honestly tell you that, until three ladies came into my life (Lorri Unumb, Lisa Rollins, Marcella Ridley), the only thing I knew (or thought I knew) about autism was from the movie, Rain Man.
Since that time I have learned so much and I’m pleased to see all the national attention for a much needed cause in our country.
The statistics on Autism and it’s impact are truly unbelievable.
In December 2005, I agreed to be the floor leader in the House for a bill that was commonly referred to as “Ryan’s Law”. The bill was named for Lorri Unumb’s six year old son and co-sponsors quickly signed on to give their support. Within months, there were hearings in both the House and the Senate and attention was growing!
Unfortunately though, a good bill with several cosponsors and tons of grassroots support failed to become law that year. The bill ultimately died in the Senate (primarily due to “the M word” – mandate). Some good did come out of the journey that year as Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington) was able to provide some children in our state with insurance coverage by means of a budget proviso.
The next year, we started over again.
The new bill passed in the Senate first and then easily passed the House. Within weeks, Ryan’s Law became a reality. Both chambers unanimously supported the law and I can still recall seeing the ladies, families, and children in the House Balcony that day.
The work of those three ladies – Lorri, Lisa, and Marcella – had finally enabled hundreds of children in our state to be able to get the services they need to be “mainstreamed” into society. The journey was shared on Lorri’s blog for everyone to follow and others from across the nation were contacting her and her Grassroots Gang.
The ironic beauty in all this was that none of those ladies who led the fight benefited from the new law! How refreshing to see people fight for a cause they believe in when they stand to gain nothing and everyone else stands to gain plenty?
I’ve been a part of some wonderful causes and legislation in my four short years in the General Assembly; but, it’s this journey, these ladies, and Ryan’s Law that will always stay with me.