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Nov. 19, 2017
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Minutes for HB2148 - Committee on Transportation

Short Title

Providing for an Autism awareness distinctive license plate.

Minutes Content for Thu, Mar 9, 2017

Chairperson Petersen opened the hearing on the bill.  Scott Wells, Revisor, gave a briefing.  He noted this bill authorizes two new specialized license plates, one for autism awareness and the other for the Kansas 4-H Foundation.  A logo royalty fee between $25 and $100 would be paid to the Autism Hope for Families, Inc. and to the Kansas 4-H Foundation, respectively. 

Senator Hardy asked how many specialty license plates have been issued by the state, and Jill Shelley responded about 50.  (After the meeting, she distributed information indicating the number is 35.)

Representative Sydney Carlin gave proponent testimony (Attachment 1) on the autism awareness license plate.  She noted it would provide awareness to the needs of people with autism and their families and financing for Autism Hope for Families, Inc.  This organization would provide seed money to communities around Kansas to help with the everyday needs of children with autism.

Representative Carlin called attention to the written testimony by Linda Heitzman-Powell, Ph.D., who could not attend the hearing.  Dr. Heitzman-Powell, an expert in her field, is one of three at the Kansas University Medical Center who diagnose autism and other childhood disorders.   She also trains applied behavior analysis  therapists, which is one of the needs Kansas has. Southeast Kansas is an under-served area, and the information in paragraphs two and three contain pertinent information.

Nikki Jacobs, Autism Hope for Families, Inc., gave proponent testimony (Attachment 2).  Nikki and her husband, Phil Jacobs, founded this corporation in 2011 and it has grown into a 501(c)(3).  Autism is a neurological disorder that affects one in 68 children.  The Jacobses have a non-verbal seven-year old daughter who was diagnosed with autism when she was 21 months old.  Mrs. Jacobs indicated it has been a struggle to find services in Chanute, Kansas where they live and which is two hours from a major city.  Therapists are usually young, typically women, and stay in bigger cities.  She added this organization will help other families so they do not struggle like the Jacobs family did.  Service to families with autism has grown and branched from Chanute to southeast Kansas and northeast Kansas.  There has been some contact with Autism Speaks in Kansas City.

Mrs. Jacobs also said Pittsburg State University is in the process of starting an Applied Behavior Analyst program, and conversations have occurred with some of the students and faculty.  Other contacts have been with foster families, TFI Family Services Wichita retreat, local teachers and law enforcement about wandering and the safety issues, etc. There is phone conversation support to families all over Kansas, and a new website was just established.  The goal is to build a center in Chanute to help kids around Parsons, Independence, Iola, Humboldt and branch out to provide seed money for other communities to do the same.  Autism Hope for Families would work with Dr. Heitzman-Powell because she started several facilities in Kansas City and other autism organizations.  Revenue from the sale of license plates could also provide grant money to students for higher education, for  communication devices to kids and adults, to educate more of the Kansas population and, also to help first responders with a data base and training to identify kids with autism so the first responders don't think they are just misbehaving. She stood for questions.

Senator Goddard noted he appreciated the work the Jacobses have done and noted they have  taken on a huge challenge.  He asked if one in 68 kids are affected by autism, how many are there in Kansas?  Mrs. Jacobs noted that perhaps Dr. Heitzman-Powell would have those numbers.  Senator Goddard asked if there are other autism organizations in the state that provide services.  She replied there is the Autism Society and Autism Speaks, which work more on funding for treatment.  She feels Autism Hope for Families would be on the cutting edge to get awareness throughout the state. 

Senator Hawk said he thanks Mrs. Jacobs for what she done for her own child and also for other families. He asked what happened in the autism center.  Mrs. Jacobs said she visited some in Missouri and Kansas.  Being a teacher, Mrs. Jacobs noted there is not a lot of focused training for autistic children.  Under Autism Hope for Families, specialists would determine what each child's needs are, and public schools would be attended for education and training.  In the community, they would learn life skills.  Consideration was given to having a farm setting so kids could learn life skills, how to care for pets, gather eggs, do laundry - the sky is the limit.  Many times, early intervention is needed along with applied behavior analysis.  Autistic children do not understand simple tasks and have to be told over and over again in order to practice and learn.  Communication is very important.  Children with autism can be taught to communicate with iPads, sign language, and maybe if they can be productive citizens in society, their behavior changes. Mrs. Jacobs said she and her husband have accepted that their daughter will live with them the rest of her life but they do not want to limit her; instead these kids should be pushed to develop their full potential.

Senator Pettey asked how the royalty fee is paid.  Scott Wells noted the royalty will be paid at the time of registration, and the treasurer's office would send fees to the appropriate party.  Senator Pettey noted that at the end of her teaching career, the number of children with autism increased, and it is disturbing to think about what in our environment is contributing to autism. 

Chairperson Petersen asked if they have 500 people to buy license plates.  Mr. Jacobs said people are requesting the plates now.  Mrs. Jacobs said they have been working and saving and have most of the $20,000 startup fee.  Over the last five years, they have helped families with funding for doctor appointments, gas money, devices, and gift cards at Christmas.  April is Autism awareness month and there are many events scheduled to include fund raising.  To date, the biggest project has been an adaptive playground for kids with special needs in the City of Chanute.  The community of Chanute has provided great support to the group.  Senator Fitzgerald congratulated the Jacobses on their leadership and added people are needed who will take a leadership role in our society.

Representative Rahjes submitted written testimony (Attachment 3) and the Chairperson asked if he would like to say a few words about the 4-H Foundation license plate.  These two requests for license plates were put together into one bill.  Representative Rahjes said he and his three children have been involved in 4-H, he believes there is no greater beginning of leadership than the 4-H program, and Kansas has a great history of 4-H.  The Foundation is contacting counties, 4-H families, and persons who over a long time have supported 4-H to raise funds for the license plate.

Written testimony was provided by Linda Heitzman-Powell, Ph.D.,Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Attachment 4).

There were no opponents or neutrals.

The hearing on this bill was closed.