AUCD Legislative News InBrief

September 8, 2008

Congressional Schedule

Congress returns today from the August recess today for a session expected to last three or four weeks. Congressional leaders say they will focus on energy legislation, a second economic stimulus bill that could include a boost states for the Medicaid program, and a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep government programs running since none of the 12 annual appropriations bills have been signed into law.  The Senate Finance Committee plans markups of several bills that impact people with disabilities, including one on nursing home safety, one on nursing home rights, and another to improve adoption and guardianship policies for children with special needs. 



With Congress expected to adjourn at the end of September without enacting any of the 12 annual appropriations bills, a CR will have to be passed in order for the federal programs to continue.  This includes funding for most AUCD network programs through the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (L-HHS-ED) appropriations bill. The L-HHS-ED appropriations bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 26; however the House bill stalled before it could reach the fill Appropriations Committee due to political maneuvers over oil drilling. Even if the bill had passed both chambers, President Bush had threatened to veto domestic spending bills that exceed his request, and Democratic leaders decided early this year that they would rather wait to finish their annual spending work until a new president takes office than have veto fights with the Administration. As of now, Democrats are planning to make the CR straightforward by keeping funding levels for government programs and agencies at their fiscal 2008 levels, with some exceptions.


ADA Amendments Act

The CCD-led coalition continues its efforts to seek additional support for the ADA Amendments Act (S. 3406/H.R. 3195) which currently has 64 cosponsors in the Senate (30R, 1I, 34D).  The bill overwhelmingly passed the House earlier this year with a vote of 402 to 17. A letter of support with over 247 signatures from the disability and business community is currently being circulated in the Senate urging the passage of this important legislation by this Congress. Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Hatch (R-UT), the lead sponsors of the Senate bill, are working to gain enough bipartisan support to allow the bill to be approved by unanimous consent.


Child Welfare/Adoption

The Senate Finance Committee is also schedule to markup the Improved Adoption Incentives and Relative Guardianship Support Act of 2008 (S. 3038), a bill to amend Part E of Title IV of the Social Security Act to extend the adoption incentives program; authorize states to expand federal support for kinship care; help keep siblings together, ensure educational stability for children in foster care; and promote the adoption of children with special needs. The bill was introduced on May 20 by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and now has 16 cosponsors (9 Democrats, 7 Republicans). The House-passed bill (H.R. 6307) contains an important section requiring states to develop a plan for overseeing and coordinating health care for children in foster care in order to reduce duplicate and unnecessary treatment, fill gaps, and improve health outcomes for children.  The current Senate legislation does not contain this provision.  AUCD signed on to a Child Welfare Coalition letter urging the Finance Committee chairman and ranking member to ensure that health coordination is in the final bill.


Abuse Prevention

The Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act (S. 1577) is scheduled to be marked up by the Senate Finance Committee this week.  The bill, introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) on June 7 has a total of 16 bipartisan cosponsors (12 Democrats, 4 Republicans).  The bill amends Titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act to require screening, including national criminal history background checks, of direct patient access employees of skilled nursing facilities, nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities and providers, and to provide for nationwide expansion of the pilot program for national and state background checks on direct patient access employees of long-term care facilities or providers.


Long-term Care/Civil Rights

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to mark up the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 2838) sponsored by Senator Martinez (R-FL) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) with 4 cosponsors.  The bill provides that a pre-dispute arbitration agreement between a long-term care facility and a resident (or anyone acting on the resident's behalf) shall not be valid or specifically enforceable. Many facilities require residents, or their family members, to sign contracts during the admissions process that include pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements. This means that any dispute between the resident and the facility, including abuse or neglect, will automatically be subject to arbitration. In these cases, by agreeing to the contract, and before a dispute ever arises, individuals are unwittingly signing away their right to have their case heard by an impartial judge or jury. A companion bill (H.R. 6126) was introduced in the House by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) on May 22, 2008 and has 14 cosponsors.


Social Security

The Social Security Administration (SSA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking today that would revise its rules on representation of claimants and beneficiaries. Among other things, the rules would recognize entities as representatives; mandate the use of a form to appoint or withdraw appointment of a representative; define the concept of a professional representative; require professional representatives to use SSA's electronic services as they become available, including requesting hearings electronically; and require representatives to maintain paper copies of certain documents. Comments are due on November 7.


Mental Health Parity

According to congressional staff, the Mental Health Parity Act (H.R. 1424/S. 558) is still a priority for Congress. House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on important portions of a long-stalled draft bill, but the legislation still lacks a spending offset that would let it move forward. AUCD signed onto a coalition letter urging Congress to pass the conference bill in September before adjourning this Congress. A summary and other fact sheets may be viewed on the coalition's website:


AUCD Webinar on Higher Education Opportunity Act

AUCD is sponsoring a webinar on disability provisions within the Higher Education Opportunity Act this Thursday, September 11, 2008, 2:00-3:30 pm EST.  The reauthorization contains new and revised provisions that will significantly improve postsecondary opportunities and supports for students with disabilities, including students with intellectual disabilities.  In addition, there are also key provisions to improve preparation of teachers and professionals in K-12 education.  This webinar will provide an overview of these disability provisions and information concerning next steps on appropriations and implementation.  Panelists Chairman George Miller (D-CA) (invited), and Sharon Lewis, Disability Policy Advisor, House Committee on Education & Labor; Stephanie Lee, Senior Policy Advisor, National Policy Center, National Down Syndrome Society;  Jane West, Vice President, Government and External Relations, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.  Registration is limited.  Click here for more information and to register.


SABE 2008 Conference

AUCD staff attended the 2008 Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) Conference in Indianapolis.  This was the 9th national self advocacy conference which is now held every two years.  It was attended by over 1200 self advocates from 49 states and Canada.  The Indiana UCEDD was a co-sponsor of the conference and assisted with planning.   Both presidential candidates were invited.  Kareem Dale from the Obama campaign attended and spoke about Obama's positions on disability issues.  A keynote session provided an update on state legislation to adopt respectful language.  At least 19 states have either passed or have pending legislation.  SABE's national goals were also discussed, which include funding to support self advocacy within the DD Act.  These goals are in the latest SABE newsletter.  New board members were elected at the conference to serve a 2-year term.  The new executive board is:  Chester Finn (Chair), Tia Nelis (Vice President), Ricky Broussard (Sergeant at Arms), Victor Robinson (Treasurer), and Cathy Enfield (Secretary).  Chester Finn also received the Rolland Johnson award, which is the highest award given by SABE.     


AUCD Disability Policy Fellowship

AUCD is now accepting applications for the 2009 Disability Policy Fellowship. The purpose of this year-long fellowship is to offer a significant experience in national level activities related to policy and legislative development, advocacy, program development, technical assistance, and association administration.  Staff working for at least 2-5 years at a network program, or graduate trainees who are completing their training program are eligible for the position.  Applications are due September 29, 2008 and the position will be filled early in 2009.  More information is on the AUCD website at the following link:



Both the Democrats and Republicans held their political conventions over the August recess.  Sen. Obama (D-IL) selected Sen. Biden (D-DE) to join him as his running mate; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.  Acceptance speeches from Presidential candidates are available online: Barack Obama and John McCain.  There was little mention of disability in either speech.  Both parties also developed their policy platforms that are posted online: Democratic Platform and Republican Platform.  More information, including media coverage concerning disability and an analysis of party platforms on disability issues, can be found on the Justice for All blog.