Legislative News InBrief

April 16, 2007

Congressional Schedule

The House returns from recess today to a busy schedule that includes conference committees to resolve differences over the FY 2008 Budget Resolution and Supplemental War Appropriations bill, which President Bush has vowed to veto if it includes troop withdrawal requirements.


Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Chip Pickering (R-MS) plan to introduce the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act of 2007 (EPIAA), a companion to the Senate bill (S. 937) introduced by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Wayne Allard (R-CO) on Feb. 7. The introduction will be announced at a press conference on Tuesday. Lee Grossman, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America, Jon Sheshtack, Autism Speaks/Cure Autism Now, and Bradley Whitford, actor and advocate (West Wing) are the featured speakers. On the same day, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), will hold a hearing on "combating autism" before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education. For more information about the House and Senate bills, see a summary and the full text .


Lifespan Respite

Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Warner (R-VA) are circulating a letter to the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Committee urging the Committee to provide $40 million in FY 08 funding for the Lifespan Respite Care Act. This is the next step in the process to obtain funding for the Act. Previously, letters were sent to the House Budget Committee and House Appropriations Subcommittee. On the Senate side, a letter was previously sent to the Senate Budget Committee with 22 additional Senators signing on. Action is now needed to ensure appropriators provide funds in the FY 08 Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill. AUCD circulated an action alert last week urging individuals to ask their Senators to sign on the letter. The deadline is April 23. For more information and to take action, visit the AUCD Action Center .


Caregiver Tax Credit

Senators Mikulski (D-MD), Grassley (R-IA), Bond (R-MO) and Clinton (D-NY) introduced the Alzheimer's Family Assistance Act of 2007 (S. 897). This bill would provide a $3,000 tax credit for family caregivers of individuals with needs for long-term services and supports. While the title of the bill highlights needs of families with relatives with Alzheimer's, need is based on a functional assessment and therefore would include many family caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities. Iterations of this bill have been proposed in previous Congresses and the bill currently has 8 additional, bi-partisan co-sponsors, including Senators Bayh (D-IN), Brown (D-OH), Coleman (R-MN), Durbin (D-IL), Isakson (R-GA), Menendez (D-NJ), Collins (R-ME), Kohl (D-WI), and Reed (D-RI). A companion House bill (H.R. 1807) was introduced by Representative Johnson (D-TX).



Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) has introduced H.R. 1688, which includes health and mental health coverage to all nine million uninsured children in the U.S. It would simplify and consolidate children's health coverage under Medicaid and SCHIP into a single program that guarantees children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia all medically necessary services. All children through age 18 with family incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty level ($61,950 for a family of four in 2007) would be eligible. Children with family incomes over 300% could buy into the program. The bill incorporates the comprehensive EPSDT benefit package for all children and other provisions which have special significance for children and youth with physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities. AUCD signed onto a letter of support developed by the Children's Defense Fund in support of this legislation.


Medicare Drug Negotiations

Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill (S. 3) that would authorize the government to negotiate drug prices by a vote of 13-8. The bill is anticipated to move quickly to the floor where it will almost certainly attract a filibuster threat which will require 60 votes. The bill does not go as far as a companion House bill (H.R. 4) which would require the government to negotiate drug prices. The White House has already issued a veto threat on the House bill.


Hate Crimes Prevention

Last week the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) sent a letter to all members of Congress urging their support for H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA), which would grant agencies the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes based on the victim's disability, whether real or perceived, and would authorize funding to states to help with the prosecution of Hate Crimes. The letter explains that bias against people with disabilities takes many forms, often resulting in discriminatory actions in employment, housing, and public accommodations and that while laws like the Fair Housing Amendments Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act protect people with disabilities from these types of prejudice, bias against persons with disabilities can also manifest itself in the form of violence. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have already recognized the importance of this issue and have included people with disabilities as a protected class under their hate crimes statutes. However, protection is neither uniform nor comprehensive, and the LLEHCPA will broaden the definition of hate crimes to include disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes. A House Judiciary subcommittee hearing is scheduled for this Tuesday.

Stem Cell Research

The Senate once again passed legislation sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) that would free up federal dollars for research on embryonic stem cells. The Senate passed the bill 63 to 34. Although the vote was four short of the supermajority needed to override a veto, three senators who support the bill missed the vote. The bill would end a policy President Bush established in 2001 that limits federal funding for research to drive stem cells from human embryos. Many scientists believe these cells are potentially useful in treating diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's. Opponents object because the research destroys human embryos. In addition to Specter, 14 Republicans voted for the bill, including Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ) Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS). Democratic Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) voted against the bill. Three Democrats did not vote: Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The House passed a similar bill, sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Mike Castle (R-DE), in January by a vote of 253 to 174, which is well short of the two-thirds needed to overturn a veto. The Senate Democratic leadership is expected to bring the measure back to the floor to reconsider the veto. In the meantime, the House will either bring the Senate-passed version directly to the floor or merge the two bills in conference committee, which would require both chambers to pass a conference report. The Senate also approved another stem cell bill, sponsored by GOP Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), that would direct federal funding to research on alternative means of deriving stem cells that does not require the destruction of human embryos, including using embryos that are certified as already dead. The Coleman-Isakson bill passed 70 to 28 but the House leadership has not committed to taking up the measure.


UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is coordinating an online petition urging President Bush to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is one strategy being used to encourage the US to sign; similar petitions have been used in Europe. Another grassroots strategy is to encourage action at the local level. For example, the city of Santa Cruz passed a resolution supporting Convention and a similar resolution is pending in San Francisco. The online petition, a ratification tool kit, and other information about the Convention are located at the following link: http://www.aapd.com/UN/petition.html