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State Rep. Debbie Wood sponsored Exton’s Law making progress in Alabama Legislature

VALLEY — Some anti-discrimination legislation being sponsored by State Rep. Debbie Wood is now winding its way through the Alabama Legislature, and chances look good for its passage and being enacted into law.

House Bill 263 (a.k.a. Exton’s Law) sailed through the House Health Committee without opposition. State Senator Randy Price supports the legislation and is optimistic it will be passed by the Senate.

The bill is named in honor of four-year-old Exton Black, son of Alex and Savannah Black of the Beulah community.

Exton has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder causing developmental and intellectual delays. This happens when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material from chromosome 21.

The name Exton is a reference to an extra chromosome he was born with.

The new law being considered would ban discrimination against someone because of their appearance. Down syndrome causes a distinct facial appearance, something that could deny someone with it to receive an organ transplant, if they ever needed one.

“You shouldn’t discriminate against someone just because of their appearance,” Wood said. “This new law would affect everyone, not just children.”

Wood said there’s no written evidence against this kind of discrimination, but “it happens every day. People are discriminated against because of their appearance.”

Wood said that parents other than the Blacks have called her telling her they have a child that has faced discrimination because of Down syndrome. “A lady from Birmingham in a very similar situation to what the Blacks are going through called me the other day and told me this legislation was needed,” Wood said. “Affected parents need to know their kids won’t be discriminated against.”

Wood introduced a similar bill in 2020, and it was making progress though the legislature before it shut down because of Covid-19. “The health committees didn’t get it on the calendar before we broke for Covid,” Wood said. “I think it would have passed last year had it not been for that. I’m very confident we will get it enacted into law this year.”

There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of opposition to it. Big hospitals like UAB were contacted about it, studied what was at stake and said they weren’t opposed to what was being done.

The current bill is well on its way to passage in the House. Should that take place as expected, that same bill would go to the Senate. “Senator Price and I decided the best way to get it approved was to pass my bill in the Senate,” Wood said. “There’s no companion bill. We will just put it on the calendar.”

There’s also the matter of getting the blessings of the Rules Committee. They decide which legislation to push.

“I’m well pleased the House Health Committee passed it unanimously,” Wood said. “I feel very comfortable about where we are in the process.”

Exton’s mom. Savannah Black, told The Valley Times-News that she and husband Alex are so appreciative of Wood’s leadership on this. “She’s phenomenal,” she said. “She’s our rock star. We can’t thank her enough for helping us with this.”

Alex works at Kia in West Point and Savannah is a stay-at-home mom because of Exton’s fragile health. “Unless you have a child with a disability you don’t know how this can affect you,” she said. “We have friends in Louisiana who have a situation similar to ours. They told us what they had been going through because of it and that it would be wise to look into it and see if the same thing could happen to us in Alabama.”

In both states, it’s a situation where the lack of an anti-discrimination law can present problems for some families.

“It did some research into this and found that it could happen here,” Savannah said. “I don’t think my child should be considered unworthy of a transplant should he ever need one. Just because he has a disability shouldn’t keep him off the list. It breaks my heart to think that here in the year 2021 moms and dads could have to face something like this with their child. Families like ours need to have a level playing field.”

Exton has started school in the Opelika city system. “He attends school 30 minutes a day two times a week,” Savannah said. “They also work with him here in our home. Exton was in early intervention before starting school in Opelika.”