AUCD Legislative News In Brief

January 9, 2009

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Congress will consider legislation this week to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  The bill is expected to be similar to bi-partisan legislation passed twice during the 110th Congress but vetoed by President Bush.  Proposals would have expanded the program by $35 billion, primarily paid for through a cigarette tax.  Originally, some members of Congress had hoped to move SCHIP as part of the economic recovery package.  The goal now is to have a stand-alone bill for President Obama to sign.  The time frame of reauthorization may be cut slightly shorter than five years in order to remain within the "pay for."  Current SCHIP funding expires March 31.  The House plans to consider SCHIP legislation Wednesday.  Timing is uncertain in the Senate.


Economic Recovery

Negotiations on an economic stimulus package will continue this week.  Committees are expected to begin mark up of portions as early as next week with the goal of a package being finished before the Presidents Day recess.  Discussions of a package start in the $800 billion range.  Senate Democrats want to see a package geared more toward infrastructure and energy and some have questioned the extent of tax credits envisioned by the Obama transition team.  However, House Democrats would like to include a one-year alternative minimum tax patch to avoid action later in the year.  Among other provisions, CCD continues to push for the inclusion of increased state assistance for Medicaid and a separate increase in the Medicaid matching rate for home and community based services and supports to stimulate the economy through restoration and creation of direct support professional jobs.    


Part C and State Budgets

Stephen Rock, Director of the Nevada UCEDD and Legislative Affairs Committee member, was interviewed this morning by National Public Radio (NPR) regarding the urgent issue of States struggling to maintain state fiscal effort for early intervention services. More and more state Part C systems are being required to cut their state budgets to respond to the growing fiscal crisis in states.   There is increasing concern that some states are considering not requesting a Part C grant for July 2009, in part because of their inability to assure the state is maintaining fiscal effort.  Following the NPR interview, Rock met with staff of Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) to discuss disability issues, including the Part C issue. 


Health Care Reform

Last week the Senate Health Education Labor and Persons (HELP) Committee held a confirmation hearing for incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle.  During the Hearing Daschle indicated he would discourage using reconciliation for health care reform and instead recommend going through the regular order.  Reconciliation would limit debate and influence of Republicans in the Senate.  Daschle is expected to go before the Senate Finance committee this week for confirmation.


The National Council on Disability (NCD) is hosting a Healthcare Policy Forum on Tuesday, January 13 from 3:00 - 4:30 PM MST (5:00 - 6:30 PM EST).  The forum will explore the relationship between health insurance coverage and access to appropriate health care for people with disabilities.  The forum is being held in Scottsdale Arizona but NCD has arranged for telephone access for listening.  The toll-free number to listen to the forum is (888) 790-6568, and the pass code is "healthcare."


Civil Rights

The Senate is expected to take up the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which would reverse a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding pay discrimination. The House passed the legislation last week by a vote of 247-171. Ledbetter filed suit against Goodyear Tire Co. when she found out she had been paid less than her male colleagues for most of her 19-year career, but the high court ruled she sued too late. Democrats were four votes short of passage in the Senate last year.  The bill would effectively extend the statute of limitations on suing employers for pay discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or national origin. Passage is more likely in this Congress now that the Democrats have increased their majority in the Senate. Although disability is not among the list of protected classes in the measure, the bill could help future cases in which people with disabilities face similar discrimination.


House Committee Appointments

Committee leaders are beginning to announce new appointments.  House Appropriations Committee Ranking Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) on Friday announced the Republican subcommittee membership of the House Appropriations Committee for the 111th Congress.  With the exception of Representative Rehberg, the members of the subcommittee that impacts disability policy the most -- the Labor, Health, and Human Services -- are all new.  They are: Todd Tiahrt (KS-04) (Ranking Member), Denny Rehberg (MT - At Large), Rodney Alexander (LA- 05), Jo Bonner (AL-01), and Tom Cole (OK-04).  The Democrats have not yet announced any new members of the Appropriations Committee.  However, the following Democrats have been added to two other important committees in the House. On Education and Labor are: Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, Del. Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, Jared Polis of Colorado and Paul Tonko of New York.  On Energy and Commerce, Peter Welch of Vermont has been added.  AUCD will post all the new Committees once they are complete.


Restraints and Seclusion and Education

Senator Dodd (D-CT) and several family members of victims of restraint and seclusion are scheduled to speak about the disturbing number of children being abused and neglected in schools across the country tomorrow. The Capitol Hill briefing on restraint and seclusion in schools is being hosted by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). The briefing will highlight findings from a report that will released tomorrow by NDRN that compiles cases brought to the attention of the protection and advocacy network detailing deaths and physical and emotional injuries on students related to the use of restraints and seclusion.  The report also outlines inconsistent state laws, lack of training for teachers, and little government oversight or investigation of the issue.


CCD Annual Meeting

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) held their all-day annual meeting on Friday.  CCD is a coalition of over 100 national disability organizations with the mission to advocate for national public policy that ensures the self determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society.  Annual reports from CCD's task forces are posted on the consortium's website.  AUCD's Director of Legislative Affairs Kim Musheno was elected to a second term on the Board of Directors for CCD.  She also volunteered to continue co-chairing the task forces on autism, fiscal policy, developmental disabilities, and child abuse prevention.  AUCD's Policy Analyst, Joe Caldwell volunteered to continue his leadership position on the Long Term Services and Support Task Force as well as to serve on the Health Task Force.


In addition to organizing task forces and strategizing for the coming year, participants heard from Kareem Dale, Disability Policy Director for the Presidential Transition Team.  Dale talked about President-elect Obama's commitment to supporting people with disabilities.  He again reiterated Obama's support for the Community Choice Act and the CLASS Act, two high priority goals of the disability community, as well as support for early intervention and full funding of IDEA.  Participants also heard from a panel on health care reform that included majority and minority staff from the Senate Finance Committee and Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP).  CAP is a progressive Washington think tank headed by John Podesta, who is on leave of absence to head up Obama's transition team efforts.