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DisAbility Votes Hopes to Have Impact in Fall

Momentum for political action has continued to build among advocates for people with disabilities since the General Assembly's failure to pass a measure mandating insurance coverage for autistic children.

Martha J. Toomey, founder of Mary's Family.org, a nonprofit that is a support group for children with all disabilities, said the high-profile battle in Richmond over covering autistic children has given a welcome boost to her recently created PAC for families with children who have any sort of disability.

"One woman called from Norfolk and wanted to get involved," Toomey said. "Word's getting out."

As a nonprofit, Mary's Family could not advocate in political campaigns. So Toomey, of Orlean, and Mary Dotson, of Vienna, created disAbility Votes in January to influence political campaigns on behalf of all people with disabilities. Both were scheduled to make the rounds meeting with lawmakers in Richmond on Thursday.

Toomey said the PAC, which has raised more than $2,000, could help the campaigns of politicians who were sympathetic to the autism bill and oppose those who were not.

Among those under scrutiny are lawmakers who served on two key panels: a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee, which took no action on the autism measure, and the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which voted to kill a compromise bill.

Opponents--including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and NFIB, which represents small businesses--worked to stop the bill, arguing that a new mandate could jack up the cost of healthcare insurance for Virginia businesses.

But Toomey said her PAC would not focus solely on the autism issue. As part of its mission to promote issues of interest to all people with disabilities, the PAC could also address lawmakers' failure to close a huge gap in Medicaid spending by raising the state excise tax on cigarettes. She said she is even paying attention to which district offices are equipped for people with disabilities.

--Fredrick Kunkle

By Tim Craig  |  February 24, 2009; 12:32 PM ET
 
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