The first of the new laws — which takes effect immediately — expands New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law, to ensure that no one who has autism and related neurological disorders is denied access to libraries, restaurants, gyms, pools, theaters and other public. It also guarantees equal access to housing and jobs.
The law previously had applied to people with mental or physical disabilities.
The second law allows adults to join the state autism registry, established so New Jersey health officials can track cases and look for possible trends. The registry, which is voluntary, initially was open only to children, who are added by health professionals.
New Jersey has the country’s highest rate of autism, with one in 94 children affected, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national average is one in 150.
The anti-discrimination bill had bipartisan support. Prime sponsors were Democratic senator Joe Vitale and Republican senator Tom Kean. In a release, Kean said:
Autistic residents will now receive the same protections as other disabled citizens from discrimination in access to housing, employment and public accommodations such as theaters, stores and restaurants. New Jersey is known for opening doors of opportunity for all its disabled residents. This bill’s passage shows that legislators of both parties can and do work together to build a more compassionate New Jersey.