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Legislature's approval of autism bill prompts emotional thanks from one of its own

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 13, 2010 - The Legislature's passage of the bill mandating insurance coverage for treatment of autistic children is one action that -- after several years of debate -- appears now to be a uniter, not a divider.

The bill's final version mandates coverage of up to $40,000 a year for behavioral therapy for autistic children through age 18.

In the hours after Wednesday's final votes -- which now send the bill to Gov. Jay Nixon for a certain signature -- legislators in both parties were firing off happy e-releases lauding the measure's passage.

No one was happier than state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, who brought his autistic son, Stephen, to the Capitol for Wednesday's vote. In an emotional post-vote address on the floor, Schmitt predicted that legislators will be flooded with gratitude from families with autistic children.

Schmitt added that he believed that the new law will be something that every supporter in the Legislature "will be extremely proud of."

There's certainly lots of them. The final vote in the House: 144-16. In the Senate: 27-6.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.