Or is she?
Renee Unterman is a familiar figure at the gold dome, especially to those working in the health care realm. She’s long presided over the health committee.
And she wants children with autism to be covered.
Though many said it didn’t go far enough, the senate bill she championed last session was a huge expansion in insurance coverage for kids with autism. Through her efforts, it passed the Senate unanimously and went to the house.
That’s when a personal crusade to help kids with autism collided with hubris. In the end, the kids lost out.
The house apparently saw the bill as little more than Obamacare light. They saw the bill, didn’t like it and shunted it off to committee. There senate bill 397, a weakened version of Ava’s law seemed destined to die on the vine.
At the same time, the medical marijuana bill appeared in the senate. To the lay person, the house bill seemed similar. One focused on autism and the other on medical bud but both aiming to help children. Senator Unterman saw an opportunity. She could use her chair position to force the house to move on autism. Here’s what she told WSB:
“Well, always when we get to the last 10 days of the session there’s a lot of bills held hostage. I have worked on the autism bill and it has not had a hearing in the house,” Unterman said.
Just as her bill was ‘held hostage’ so too now was the medical marijuana bill. But Unterman’s move failed to get the house to act on her measure. So senator Unterman upped the ante. She attached her autism language to the marijuana proposal, HB885. Together, they passed overwhelmingly in the senate and went back to the house.
A move that would doom both measures.
From the earlier treatment of her autism bill in the house, Senator Unterman knew the language was bound to cause problems. For example, Allen Peake, the sponsor of HB 885, had spoke out against the autism language.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly on sine die, the senate refused to take pass medical marijuana without autism. The house wouldn’t take up any bill that had autism in it. And in that impasse, both plans died.
Two op-eds, one by Allen Peake, and one by a mother of a child who badly needed the oil that 885 would have legalized, place the blame directly on Senator Unterman and Casey Cagle.
But are they really blameworthy? Senator Unterman’s twitter feed is full of her advocacy for autistic kids and their parents. It is an issue she has made her cause. Should she have given up? Gold dome pundits know how commonplace fights are between the two chambers and legislative games of chicken are certainly also routine.
The parents of kids who need medical marijuana wish she would have blinked. Unterman said those families just don’t understand “this building is nothing but politics.” Harsh words but perhaps this session she felt that personal sting right along with them.