AUCD Legislative News InBrief

October 1, 2007


In a surprising shift, Senator Reid announced plans to take up the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill the week of Oct. 15. Sen. Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill, has called advocates to a meeting this Wednesday to discuss their plans. Meanwhile, the House and Senate passed a "Continuing Resolution" (CR) to keep the government programs going through November 16th while Congress finishes their work on the 12 annual appropriations bills. The CR also includes an extension of the SCHIP program. The new Fiscal Year begins today, Oct. 1.



Both the House and Senate voted last week to pass the bipartisan compromise bill to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Thanks to those of you who responded to AUCD's action alerts and other targeted contacts. Because of the coordinated efforts of advocates, the final bill provides a six-month delay of the two proposed rules that would eliminate the ability of states to pay habilitation services for people with developmental disabilities through the state plan option and one to restrict the use of Medicaid funding for school-based services. Although the Senate passed it with strong support by a vote of 67-29, the House passed it by a narrower vote of 265-169. Unfortunately, this is not a wide enough a margin to overturn the President's promised veto. As the program expired on Sunday, September 30th (the end of the fiscal year), Congress had to pass a short term extension of the program to provide additional time to work out a compromise with the White House. Please see AUCD's action alert asking advocates and families to contact President Bush to urge him to sign the bipartisan SCHIP bill (


Community Choice Act

Last week the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on home and community based long-term services and supports, primarily focused on the Community Choice Act (S. 799 / H.R. 1621). The hearing had an excellent turnout, including a busload of hundreds of advocates from Rochester, NY, donning bright orange shirts which read "Community Choice Act Now!" The hearing was also well attended by members of the Finance Committee, including Senators Baucus (D-MT), Grassley (R-IA), Smith (R-OR), Wyden (D-OR), Snowe (R-ME), Kerry (D-MA), Salazar (D-CO), Schumer (D-NY), Lincoln (D-AR), and Bunning (R-KY). A key outcome of the hearing was that Chairman Baucus indicated he would request a new score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) based on the research and testimony of Mitchell La Plante. La Plante's research re-estimated the cost of implementing the Community Choice Act using different assumptions of functional needs for long-term services. Testimony from the hearing is located at the following link:

Civil Rights: Hate Crimes Prevention

The Senate passed the Mathew Sheppard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105) sponsored by Sens. Kennedy (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR). The amendment to the Defense authorization bill was approved by voice vote, after Democrats secured the 60 votes needed to end debate and approve the amendment. An identical House bill passed by 237 to 180 in May. Under the Senate amendment, the definition of a hate crime would expand to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. Local law enforcement officials would be allowed to apply for federal grants to solve such crimes, and federal agents would be given broader authority to assist state and local police. More stringent federal sentencing guidelines would also be instituted. After the vote on the Kennedy-Smith amendment, the Senate approved by a 96-3 vote, an amendment from Sen. Hatch (R-UT) requiring studies of investigations and prosecutions by state and local law enforcement into hate crimes. The next step is for the House and Senate to work out the differences in the two bills. President Bush threatened to veto the bill during the House debate. It is uncertain if he will veto it if it remains attached to the Defense authorization bill.

Health Care: Paralysis Research

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill (H.R. 1727) sponsored by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Mary Bono (R-CA) that would expand research on paralysis by working through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to connect scientist working on paralysis research to create the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Research Consortia and to distribute grants to public and nonprofit entities to conduct similar research. The legislation also works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage research on improving the quality of daily life, developing daily assistive technologies and disseminating information about best practices for helping people living with paralysis from spinal cord injuries, strokes, ALS, and other causes. The bill also would set up a network of clinical trials to share information about the results of rehabilitation methods and outcomes. The bill now moves to the full House. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved its version of the legislation (S. 1183), sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in July.

Health Care: Vision Care

Another bill approved by the Committee (HR 507), sponsored by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), would improve vision screening and follow-up for low-income and uninsured children under age 9 was also approved by the panel. The bill authorizes $65 million over five years for a grant program for states to provide comprehensive eye exams, treatment for children who are identified as needing additional care, and to distribute educational materials about vision impairment to children and families. The bill requires states to match the funds at 25 percent. Green noted during the markup that good vision testing is particularly important because young children with poor vision are often improperly diagnosed as having other developmental problems. Also, a missed vision problem can lead to problems with physical, emotional, and educational progress. When the bill was introduced in January, Green noted that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately two-thirds of children fail to receive preventive vision care before beginning elementary school. He also pointed out that thirty states have mandated vision screenings for children, but nearly 80 percent of children who fail these screenings do not get the required follow-up care. The Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee approved the bill by voice vote in July. An identical bill (S. 1117) sponsored by Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., has yet to be considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.


Mental Health Parity

The House Ways and Means Committee passed the Mental Health Parity Act (HR. 1424) Thursday. The bill has been approved by the House Education and Labor Committee and must be approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee before it is sent to a conference committee with a weaker version passed by the Senate. In an interesting twist, the conference committee could set Senate HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) against his son Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) an original sponsor of the House bill. Both the House and Senate bills require equality in deductibles and co-payments, for example, if health plans include treatment for both physical and mental disorders. But there are a number of differences with backers of the House bill saying that measure provides more parity. For example, the House bill requires coverage for treatment by out-of-network doctors. The Senate bill does not mandate out-of-network mental health coverage if a health plan has out-of-network coverage for medical and surgical benefits for physical problems. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) tried but failed to eliminate a provision in the House bill that would mandate health plans to cover out-of-network mental health treatments. Rep. Ramstad (R-MN) reported that parents usually have to go outside the network of existing health plans to find specialists who treat their children with autism and costs of such treatment are so expensive that not everyone can afford them. Once the bill is approved by all three House committee, it then goes to the full House floor.

ADA Restoration Act

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties plans to hold the first hearing on the ADA Restoration Act (HR 3195) this Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), now has 203 sponsors.