Legislative News InBrief

September 25, 2006

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

Congressional Schedule
It will be a very busy week as Congress tries to complete work on list of priority legislation before recessing this Friday. The Senate has planned a full agenda on bills addressing terrorism, military tribunals and the NSA surveillance program. The House has more than 90 bills to be considered under suspension of the rules (a procedure that requires 2/3 approval to pass non-controversial bills without discussion or amendments). AUCD hopes that the Lifespan Respite Care Act will be one of these bills passed under suspension. Because Congress has not completed work on any of the annual appropriations bills, a Continuing Resolution (CR) will have to be passed by the end of the week to continue funding programs past the Oct. 1 end of the fiscal year and until Congress returns sometime in November to finish appropriations. AUCD emailed an alert this morning to the network with links to our Action Center on pending disability-related legislation that could move this week with the help of our grassroots. Take action and educate your legislators on any of these important bills on AUCD's Action Center .

Combating Autism Act
AUCD is still hopeful that the House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider the Combating Autism Act (S. 843) before recessing. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on Aug. 3. House Committee staff indicated that Chairman Barton is interested in moving the bill. However, there are rumors that Chairman Barton is holding the bill hostage to the NIH reauthorization bill which has been somewhat controversial and may not be enacted this year. AUCD is urging Chairman Barton to move the bill before the end of this recess so that people with autism spectrum disorders and their families can begin to benefit from additional research and direct services soon. See AUCD's action alert with a sample letter.

NIH Reauthorization
The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 42-1 to approve a draft overhaul of the National Institutes of Health. Chairman Barton (R-TX) indicated that he plans to bring the bill to the floor this week on the suspension calendar. The bill, which allows for direct appropriations to institutes and centers, neither eliminates any institutes or centers nor changes the manner by which they operate. However, there will be a committee formed to look at the structure of institutes and centers which will make recommendations for structural changes to NIH. Also, a "common fund" would be created that would receive half of any increase that any institute receives. AUCD and other advocates are concerned that the common fund could jeopardize increases in funding for developmental disabilities research. Even if the bill is approved by the full House this week, the Senate has not indicated any willingness adopt the House approach.

Lifespan Respite Care Act
The Lifespan Respite Care Act (HR 3248) was unanimously reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on September 20. AUCD has been working for over five years to move this important bill that would provide grants to states to set up statewide coordinated lifespan respite programs. There are a few changes from the introduced bill. Most importantly, the authorization for appropriations was significantly reduced from $90 million to $30 million. In addition, due to strong pressure from the Administration on Aging, the Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC) will now be the lead eligible entity. However, advocates managed to negotiate compromise language that ensures that the ADRCs have to collaborate with a state respite agency or private nonprofit organization with respite experience and they must provide a memorandum of agreement so that this collaboration is in writing. We still have much work to do to ensure that it gets to the floor this week and to get the Senate take up the House bill as soon as it is passed. See AUCD's action alert on this issue.

Emergency Planning
The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill is now being considered by a House-Senate Conference Committee. The Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Bill (H.R. 5441) is being considered as an amendment to the larger appropriations bill. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Emergency Preparedness Task Force of which AUCD is member worked to successfully include disability-specific provisions in the bill, such as including people with disabilities in every phase of emergency management activities at all levels of government, providing post-disaster case management services, establishing and enforcing requirements for accessible temporary and replacement housing and the establishment of a national Disability Coordinator in the Office on Disability in HHS. This bill has a very good chance of passage before the congressional recess.

Medicaid/Long Term Services
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced on Friday, September 15, 2006, the award of nearly $20 million in grants to states to develop programs for people with disabilities or long term illnesses. The "Real Choice Systems Grants for Community Living" will help states and territories "rebalance" their long-term support programs to help people with chronic illness or disabilities to reside in their homes and participate fully in community life. For additional information please see: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/RealChoice/02_WhatsNew.asp