Advocates say bill would benefit all children with behavioral, learning challenges
WV Press Association Report
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even on a busy morning in the Rotunda outside the House of Delegates chamber at the West Virginia state capitol, Jared Clonch and Michael Snyder seem out of place in the crowd of lobbyists, history buffs in Civil War attire and volunteers working display booths.
But the two young dads — while trying to keep their children occupied in the middle of the West Virginia State Capitol — are at the Capitol on the 44th day of the legislative session for very specific reason: House Bill 4723.
HB 4723 – officially explained as “Permitting a certified behavioral analyst to be eligible for the student loan repayment program” — is also discussed around the Capitol as the Special Ed Bill, the Autism Bill and the Board Certified Behavioral Analyst Bill.
This week, however, it’s mostly referred to as stalled.
HB 4723 is in House Finance and the Feb. 23 deadline to get bills out of committee and to the floor of the House of Delegates is looming.
As of Thursday, there are 148 bills pending in House Finance. The committee has started meeting twice a day.
Clonch, with his 4-year-old son Jacob, and Snyder, with his 4-year-old daughter Lily, were at the Capitol to attract attention to the bill and possibly talk with legislators.
The two dads aren’t worried about student loan repayment for Jacob and Lily, but they do want legislative support for HB 4723, which should help get more board certified behavioral analysts in West Virginia.
Jacob and Lily both have autism and need access to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services for children with autism and other behavior challenges.
Without HB 4723, they say a bad situation in West Virginia will get worse.
In terms of a person working legislation at the Capitol, Jill Scarbro-McLaury does seem just the type. She has all the facts and figures to support HB 4723.
“It’s a jobs bill for an immediate need,” Scarbro-McLaury said, adding West Virginia needs between 400 and 600 board certified behavioral analysts today to assist with all children with behavioral and learning challenges.
She said the bill is “ABA workforce development” and would be a small investment with a large return. Scarbo-McLaury estimated each board certified behavioral analyst working in West Virginia would create 10 related jobs.
Scarbo-McLaury said the estimated return on investment is $15 to $1.
Scarbo-McLaury said supporting HB 4723 will grow the state’s economic base and healthcare community. Not moving the bill will force young families such as the Clonchs and Snyders to move from West Virginia in search of care for their children, she said.
Scarbro-McLaury is the director of Bright Futures Learning Services – CARES – in Winfield, W.Va., which is an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) center for families and their children.
Lily is one of 20 children at Bright Futures. Jacob is one of 200 children currently on the waiting list for an opening at the center.
In terms of just autism, Scarbo-McLaury said there are 6,000 children diagnosed in West Virginia and thousands more who need evaluated … but there aren’t enough board certified behavioral analysts to do the work. It’s estimated that only 600 children have access to ABA services in West Virginia.
“You can be on the waiting list for months just for an evaluation,” said Clonch, who is raising Jacob and his 5-year-old brother Jared Jr. His wife, Lacey, died 25 days after Jacob was born. “Now we are on several waiting lists for treatment programs,” he said.
Snyder said he and his wife, Stacy, were fortunate to get Lily evaluated and into Bright Futures when she was two.
The men, engineering professionals who work together at Orders Construction in St. Albans, said they each have considered moving from West Virginia to get care. They credit the support of their employer as being part of the reason they are still in the state. However, both said the need for trained professionals to help their children might still force them to leave the state.
Clonch said the costs for care are astronomical but the real frustration … for a parent … is not being able to find care or get into treatment programs. “I can’t help him. … I can’t find anybody that can help him.”
Scarbo-McLaury said her frustration is getting HB 4723 up for consideration in House Finance.
The bill, with a $250,000 fiscal note, has bipartisan support and was passed by the House’s Health and Human Resources Committee. It’s sponsored by delegates Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas; Jeffery Park, R-Raleigh; Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia; Ed Evans, D-McDowell; Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan; and Mick Bates, D-Raleigh.
HB 4723 was not on the agenda Thursday.