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Lee: Lower profile legislative programs have big impact

Much well-deserved attention has been given to the state's support of infrastructure funding, which will rebuild and repair roads, bridges, and airports throughout the state, especially in oil country. Tax relief has also been a big topic. However, there are several other programs which were supported by the legislature that will have a big impact on North Dakota citizens, but which have received less attention.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an issue for many children and families, as well as for the schools. A new voucher program was approved which, for the first time, will provide services recognized as medically effective for children up to age 18 who do not qualify for the current waiver, which is limited to those under age 5 who would qualify for institutional care. The new voucher program will provide training for not only parents and teachers about how to deal with the behavioral challenges, but will also train others who come in contact with the children, such as school staff members and child care providers. Information about diagnosis, early detection and intervention will be provided. Data will be collected to determine how many children are affected and what range of services they may need, in order to better provide those services in the years ahead. This pilot project is viewed as the foundation of a program that will more fully develop as more information is gathered.

Medicaid Expansion is a big change for North Dakota, providing health coverage for childless adults under 100% of the federal poverty level. This group, the poorest of us, is not covered by ObamaCare, and now will have health coverage. Employers supported the expansion, because the federal healthcare law would require those with 50+ employees to pay $2000/employee as penalties for not providing coverage. Employees not covered by employers also will benefit, because they will not have to pay penalties up to $695/year for not buying insurance. Medicaid expansion will provide coverage for an estimated 20,500 North Dakota citizens who do not have health insurance.

The statewide trauma system was begun eight years ago, providing training for emergency service providers and staff in smaller hospitals so that they can properly and quickly treat individuals who have suffered traumatic injuries to prevent further damage and enhance recovery. Rural areas now have many volunteers and medical professionals who have had this special training, and the next phase of this system will now be put in place. Now, if you are driving or working in rural North Dakota and have a traumatic injury, the chances for proper treatment and recovery are much greater than they were 10 years ago.

Heart attack and stroke victims will have improved outcomes as a result of a STEMI program which provides specialized equipment for ambulances so that test results can be sent ahead to hospitals which can be prepared to immediately treat the patient properly.

The Senate Human Services committee heard 49 Senate bills and 45 House bills during our 80 day session, with positive outcomes in many more areas than those mentioned here. Ninety-three cents out of every dollar in the Human Services budget goes directly for services to citizens. Programs affecting people were given detailed attention by your legislators, and the results will positively affect many of us and our neighbors.

If you have any questions about these or any other topics addressed in the recent legislative session, please contact us. Senator Judy Lee, 282-6512,; Rep. Kim Koppelman, 282-6297,; Rep. Alon Wieland, 282-9470,

Sen. Judy Lee represents North Dakota District 13.