A bill to license behavioral analysts who provide treatment to children with autism has been filed in the N.C. General Assembly.
The bipartisan House Bill 91 has a companion version in Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 103.
HB91 will be addressed at 10 a.m. Tuesday by the House Health committee. It requires recommendations from the Health, Finance and Rules and Operations before advancing to the House floor.
Under current state regulations, qualified behavioral analyst professionals must operate under the supervision of licensed psychologists, according to a statement from bill sponsors.
Both bills would create a five-member state Behavioral Analysis Board that would be able to issue and revoke the licenses of applicants. Licenses would be valid for two years and subject to renewal.
Applicants would have to be at least age 18, pass a criminal history record check, pass the board's Certified Behavior Analyst examination, and have active status with the board. There would be a $250 application fee and a $200 renewal fee.
According to Autism Speaks, applied behavior analysis "is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior."
"ABA therapy applies our understanding of how behavior works to real situations. The goal is to increase behaviors that are helpful, and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning."
The bills have powerful primary sponsors in House majority leader John Bell IV, R-Johnston, and Senate Majority Whip Jim Perry, R-Lenoir. Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, is a co-primary sponsor of HB91.
The bills contain most of the same language in House Bill 671, which cleared the House by a 112-2 vote on May 28, 2019, but was never addressed in the Senate.
Bell and Perry said in a joint statement that the bill would "reduce and streamline unnecessary regulations to improve and expand access to care for children with autism."
The legislators said North Carolina is the only state "where behavior analysts who provide highly effective treatment to children with autism are unable to practice independently."
The legislators said that as a result, there have been "fewer providers, long wait lists, higher costs and reduced access to treatment for children with autism, particularly in rural areas."
"Furthermore, North Carolina has had difficulty in recruiting and retaining behavior analysts to a state where they are unable to independently practice."
A December 2019 study sponsored by the American Psychiatry Association determined that "new workforce policies are needed to increase the supply of certified adaptive behavioral analysis providers to meet the needs of youths with autism spectrum disorder."
Perry said the bill would represent "a huge win for these families, especially in rural areas that are in desperate need for more providers.”
Lambeth said he chose to co-primary sponsor HB91 because of feedback he received from local families caring for children with autism.
"The impact of this bill on families and those with autism is significant," Lambeth said. "I am very glad I can be part of helping them receive the highest levels of care they deserve."
There was a similar behavioral analysis effort in House Bill 646 during the 2015 session that ran parallel to a successful effort at passing a state Senate bill that required health insurance coverage for individuals with autism. HB646 was not heard in committee.
At that time, advocates said that while they were pleased with getting coverage established, they would continue efforts to persuade legislators on making tweaks to accommodate applied behavioral analysis.
Rates of autism have been on the rise in the United States for years.
According to Autism Speaks, signs of autism usually appear by ages 2 or 3.
"Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months," according to the group. "Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 54 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder.
The diagnosis cuts across all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines, though it is five times more common among boys than girls.