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Legislative Report District 13: Committee addresses variety of studies

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The interim committee meetings of the North Dakota Legislature have started to meet and work on the studies assigned to each committee, and the first Human Services Interim Committee was held last week. The studies assigned to the Human Services Committee are as follows: of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, Guardianship Services, Department of Human Services caseloads and Program Utilization, and the States Qualified Service Provider System

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The Study of the Autism Spectrum is important because of several factors. In 2003, it was estimated that one in every 150 child born in North Dakota had some sort of Autistic condition. Today, it is estimated that one in 80 children to one in 240 have some sort of intellectual disability with an average of one in 110. It may even be as low as one in 90. There is no cure for ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and there is no information available as to the cause. It is unknown. There may be many factors that make a child more likely to have ASD, including environmental, biological, and genetic factors. However, research shows that early intervention services can help children from birth to3 years old to learn important skills that can assist in providing children to talk, walk, and interact with others.

The ASD spectrum includes Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Rett's Syndrome (extremely rare), Pervasive Developmental Disabilities (not otherwise specified) and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. The problem is that not knowing the cause, and with the possibility of large numbers of children involved, what is the state's role, and what is affordable. Currently there are services offered by private agencies up to age three, and after that children are served by the education system.

The study plan adopted includes receiving information from private and public agencies, reviewing the sliding fee scale, developing committee recommendations and preparing legislation, if possible, as well as preparing a final report.

The Study of the Guardianship Services will involve contracting with a consultant to study guardianship services for vulnerable adults. This is a problem for many older citizens that can no longer handle their own affairs. The courts can delegate someone to handle the affairs for them. There are many problems in that the states do not have uniform laws, and it is difficult to find or appoint a guardian unless the individual can afford to pay for the services. Often, family members are not willing to undertake such a task, and sometimes there is dishonesty involved. The plan includes obtaining information from private and public sources, and receiving the report from the consultant. Again recommendations and possible legislation might result.

The other two studies are similar in scope and the plan is to receive information and make recommendations and possibly recommend legislation. The studies have to be completed prior to October 2012.

Senator Judy Lee and I had the opportunity to attend the dedication of the new Veterans Home in Lisbon last Saturday. The facility is almost double the size of the old home and it is very efficient and provides a better standard of living for our Veterans, and they deserve it. The old facility had showers at the end of the halls, and that doesn't work where there are both men and woman residents. Some of the baths were so small, one had to back into them to use them. There were four floors, and now everything is on one floor, with no basement. The halls are wide, and the rooms spacious enough to be enjoyed, with no warehousing. Each pod houses approximately 12-14 people, and there are only four double rooms. Those rooms are for husbands and wives. There is a small kitchen in each pod to prepare special meals, and for snacks, etc. The state and federal governments teamed to make this facility available at a cost of approximately $35,000,000.

If you are interested in a tour of this fine facility, you can call Susie at-1-701-683-6540 or Jann at 1-701-683-6534 to make an appointment. They prefer that you do so on Tuesdays or Thursdays, but I am sure that if you need to do it on another day, with an appointment, it might be possible. The staff is quite proud of the facility, and so are the residents. They are very humble about their new home, and are happy with it.

As always, your legislative team would like to hear from you. Even though, the next session is one-and-a-half years away, we can always use time for preparation. Senator Judy Lee, 282-6512, jlee@nd.gov; Representative Kim Koppelman, 282-9267 kkoppelman@nd.gov; Representative Alon Wieland, 282-9470, awieland@nd.gov.

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