Individuals who misrepresent themselves as board certified behavior analysts could be found guilty of felony charges under bipartisan legislation supported by state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and approved by the state Senate today.

The proposed bill would crack down on people who fraudulently represent themselves as board certified behavior analysts -- primarily for the treatment of children with autism. The penalty for this new criminal offense would be up to five years in prison and up to a $500 fine for each offense -- with each instance of patient contact or consultation constituting a separate offense. Currently, that is the penalty under Connecticut law for fraudulently posing as a speech, occupational or physical therapist.

"In my opinion, the best way to deter this fraud is to punish it directly and with appropriate severity under our criminal statutes," Looney said. "Without appropriate treatment, those living on the spectrum can suffer irreparable setbacks that will negatively impact the whole of their lives. We have a responsibility to provide children and their families with the protection they need and deserve from this devastating type of fraud.

"This is the next step in reforming our laws to ensure that families in Connecticut can have a sense of security that the individual they select to provide therapy to their autistic child is as qualified as they represent themselves to be," Duff said. "It is absolutely critical that children on the autism spectrum get proper therapy. Those who misrepresent themselves to so at the direct detriment to children and families."

This is the third year in a row that a bipartisan coalition has moved to strengthen and improve services for those with autism. In 2009 the General Assembly approved a bill that made Connecticut the 9th state in the nation with a comprehensive autism insurance mandate. In 2010 the General Assembly passed a bill that for the first time required school districts to regulate the administration and supervision of behavior therapy for autistic children.

The legislation -- Senate Bill 799, An Act Concerning Misrepresentation as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst --now moves to the state House of Representatives for consideration. It was previously approved unanimously in the Public Health and Judiciary Committees.

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The 2011 regular legislative session adjourns on June 8.