Legislative News InBrief

July 17, 2006

Kim E. Musheno
Director of Public Policy
[email protected]

Congressional Schedule
The schedule of the House and the Senate this week will be dominated by issues designed to score political points prior to the elections this fall. The House will debate a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and a bill to strip the authority of federal courts to consider whether "under God" should be included in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Senate will consider three bills regarding stem cell research and then will move on to Water Development Resources Act. The Senate also continues to move its appropriations bills through committee, including the Labor-HHS bill (see below). The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will mark-up the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (see story below). The House Government Reform Committee will take up bills to make budget process changes (see below) and the House Ways and Means Committee will hold an oversight hearing this week regarding TANF.

Labor-HHS Appropriations
The Senate Labor HHS-Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up the FY2007 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill tomorrow. A draft bill has not yet been released. The full Appropriations Committee is then scheduled to consider the bill on Wednesday, along with the bills for Defense, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-Treasury-HUD funding. Once the full Committee approves those bills, the Committee will have completed its work on all of its bills except the Commerce/Justice/Science spending bill. The full Senate has yet to consider any FY2007 appropriations bills. The House, on the other hand, has passed all of its appropriations bills except the Labor-HHS bill. It is unclear when the House will take it up due to the fact that an amendment raising the minimum wage was attached to it in the full Appropriations Committee.

Budget Process: Sunset Commission
The House Government Reform Committee is scheduled to take up several bills that would create a Sunset Commission. AUCD opposes the creation of Sunset Commission (see June 26 In Brief). The House committee will consider HR 5766 sponsored by Rep. Tiahrt (R-KS) that would create a commission similar to a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Gregg (R-NH) that would have fast track authority for the Commission's recommendations and is reportedly strongly opposed by appropriators. The other bill the Committee will examine is H.R. 3282, sponsored by Rep. Brady (R-TX), that would set up a sunset process. That process would require congress to "renew" every federal program at least every 12 years. HR 3282 would also set up a commission to review federal programs and make recommendations. Under Brady's bill, however, those recommendations would not have fast-track authority and Congress would not be required to act on them.

Education: No Child Left Behind
AUCD attended a hearing on July 12 held by the House Education and the Workforce Committee entitled "No Child Left Behind: Ensuring High Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students and Students with Disabilities." The hearing examined how students with disabilities or limited English proficiency are faring since implementation of NCLB. Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said in his opening statement, "With regard to disabled students, No Child Left Behind affirms our belief that a child should not be discounted simply because he or she does not learn at the same rate or in the same manner as other students. Moreover, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - which Congress renewed in 2004 - also requires that all students with disabilities be appropriately assessed on state assessments and within the context of a student's Individualized Education Program, allowing for enhanced flexibility and personalization within the student's learning experiences." Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) agreed but said that it is hard to assess how well NCLB has accomplished that, especially in light of the fact that the program has been funded at more than $55 billion less than its authorization since its inception. He further pointed out that the House Labor-HHS appropriations bill moved away from full funding for IDEA by decreasing the percentage of special education costs paid for by the Federal government by ½ of 1 percent. Miller also sought to dispel the myth that many schools have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) due to students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency. He pointed to research completed by the Aspen Institute indicating that in California less than 1% of the schools that did not make AYP failed due to students with disabilities alone.

Autism Research and Services
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to mark-up S. 843, the Combating Autism Act of 2006, tomorrow, July 18. Sponsored by Sens. Santorum (R-PA) and Dodd (D-CT), S. 843 would expand autism research and services by: creating new Autism Centers of Excellence and Centers for Environmental Health and Autism through NIH; creating an autism surveillance and research program and Centers for Excellence in Autism Spectrum Disorder Epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; creating an information and education program and developing a continuing education curriculum; expanding the Leadership, Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities program; funding research on interventions; and creating an Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. AUCD has been working with Senate HELP Committee staff on the development of the bill, particularly on the sections which include the UCEDD and the LEND programs.

Older Americans Act
Due to the shortage of legislative days remaining in the 109th Congress, it appears that the House and Senate have decided to "pre-conference" their respective bills reauthorizing the Older Americans Act. If this strategy is employed, the Senate version of the reauthorization (S.3570) will not go to the Senate floor as it usually would. Instead, the House and Senate will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions prior to floor consideration. The amended version, based on the negotiations, will then go to the full Senate for an up or down vote without the possibility of amendments. If the Senate passes the bill, it would go straight to the House floor where it would also receive an up or down vote. This legislative strategy is likely being employed because congressional supporters of reauthorization fear that there is not enough time to complete the bill this year using the normal process. However, pre-conferencing also means there will be little chance, if any, for advocates to push for further improvements in the bill.

Child Abuse: Referral to IDEA Part C from CAPTA
The Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance regarding referral of children under 3 to an IDEA part C program required by the 2003 amendments to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The child welfare handbook containing this guidance can be accessed on the Department's website .