Senate panel advances autism research bill

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee quickly approved legislation Wednesday to reauthorize federal autism research and services for five years.

The bipartisan bill, which now advances to the Senate floor, is identical to a measure passed by the House on Tuesday night and has a strong likelihood of becoming law this summer.

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The bill's approval in committee is a victory for autism advocates who pushed Congress to renew programs before lawmakers leave for the August recess. The underlying statute, the Combating Autism Act, is due to expire at the end of September unless it is extended.

The new legislation would require the Health and Human Services secretary to designate a deputy to oversee federal autism research and services. The official would help coordinate activities related to autism across federal agencies to ensure they are not duplicative.

The measure also orders the government to study the needs of autistic children as they transition to adulthood.

The HELP Committee advanced the measure on a voice vote Wednesday with no amendments, according to a committee spokeswoman.

It is called the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act instead of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act. The title change is a nod to individuals with autism who called the old name hurtful.