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Autism Act Renewal Clears Senate Committee

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With little fanfare, a U.S. Senate committee quickly passed a reauthorization of the country’s main autism legislation Wednesday morning.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously approved a bill that would renew the Combating Autism Act, a law dating to 2006 that allocates millions of federal dollars for autism research, training and infrastructure.

The move paves the way for the full Senate to take up the measure before the current incarnation of the law expires Sept. 30. If it is not reauthorized before then, research and other programs funded under the act could be brought to a halt.

In order to meet the deadline, a companion bill in the House of Representatives must also pass, but that measure has yet to be considered.

If Congress does approve the bill, however, President Barack Obama is likely to act quickly on it. Earlier this year, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a group of autism advocates that the president is “fully committed” to reauthorizing the Combating Autism Act before it expires.

The reauthorization is virtually identical to the original 2006 law, but would extend current funding levels for an additional three years. It calls for $231 million annually to fund everything from autism research to prevalence tracking, education, early identification and intervention programs.

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