AUCD Legislative News In Brief

March 21, 2011

AUCD Legislative News In Brief
  March 21, 2011   |  Vol. XI, Issue 12
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Congressional Schedule
Both the House and Senate are on recess this week.  Recess is always a good time to meet with your members of Congress while they are in their home offices and talk to them about the issues that are important to you.  Please visit AUCD's Action Center for issues and talking points on active legislation.

Budget and Appropriations
At least 60 Senators signed a letter to President Obama urging him to use the recommendations of his Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to propose a long-term plan to reduce the deficit.  Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) led the effort to gather 31 Republicans and 29 Democrats to sign the letter which emphasizes that they want the plan to include entitlement programs along with discretionary cuts.
 The letter comes as House and Senate leaders try to negotiate a deal to avoid a government shutdown next month and fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011.  Last week, Congress passed and the President signed into law the sixth continuing resolution (CR) extending fiscal 2011 funding for an additional three weeks through April 8.  The CR cuts $6 billion from current (fiscal year 2010) levels; these cuts are in addition to $4 billion cut in the previous CR, which expired on Friday.  Most of the cuts are in earmarks in several agencies other than Health and Human Services or are to programs targeted for elimination by President Obama in his budget request.  The new CR has no impact on AUCD network funding; UCEDDS, LENDs, and the National Institutes of Health continue to be funded at 2010 levels.  Congressional negotiators are determined to have a final deal funding the rest of fiscal year 2011 in place before the April 8 deadline.  The question of how the two sides will find common ground remains.

Meanwhile, Republican Senators Patrick Toomey (PA), Jon Kyl (AZ), Orrin Hatch (UT), Mike Lee (UT) and John Cornyn (TX) unveiled Thursday their Balanced Budget Amendment.  In general, a balanced budget amendment is a constitutional rule requiring that the government not spend more than it takes in, thereby balancing the projected revenues and expenditures of the government.  Such an amendment could be devastating to discretionary funding, as mandatory/entitlement expenditures for programs like Medicaid and Medicare increase each year.  Without increases in revenues, this means the funding available for discretionary programs, such as special education and supported employment, gets smaller. 

Administration on Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Sharon Lewis and Department of Justice Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel Bagenstos were among those to testify at a public hearing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Tuesday on "Employment of People with Mental Disabilities."  The meeting explored the reasons for the disproportionately high unemployment rates for people with intellectual disabilities and how barriers for employment might be addressed.  William Kiernan Ph.D., Director of the Institute for Community Inclusion (MA UCEDD) also testified. An archived webcast and the written testimony of each witness is available on the EEOC website.

AUCD staff also met with staff of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, to discuss and provide input on a draft bill to reauthorize the Rehabilitation Act (Title IV of the Workforce Investment Act) and to provide more opportunities for individuals with developmental and other disabilities to get jobs and earn higher wages. It is hoped that a bill will be introduced later this spring.

Health Care Reform
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing entitled, "Implementation and Sustainability of the New, Government-Administered Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Program."  Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee provided the lead testimony, stating that the program is on track to begin in October of 2012.  She also said that Department officials are working to make changes to ensure the program's long-term sustainability.  Her testimony was followed by a stakeholder's panel that included Tony Young, NISH and member of the CCD Long-Term Services Task Force, and Larry Minnix, President and CEO of LeadingAge and the chair of Advance CLASS, the new non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the program.  The line of questioning from Republican members was critical of the program model in terms of sustainability, while Democrats mainly supported the program's design and purpose.  The Committee website provides links to all of the testimony and an archived video of the hearing.

Federal legislation was introduced Thursday to allow parents to recover expert witness fees in due process hearings and litigation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (S.613, H.R. 1208) was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT); and in the House by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Pete Sessions (R-TX).  It would override a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Arlington Central School District v. Murphy) ruling that parents cannot be reimbursed for expert witness fees incurred as part of due process proceedings.  In doing so, the Court disregarded Congress' clearly-expressed intent that parents should recover expert fees just like attorneys' fees.  This bill restores the bipartisan intent of Congress and helps to level the playing field for parents.  The text of both bills will be available on AUCD's IDEA policy page when it becomes available.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the American Association of People with Disabilities Leadership Awards Gala Tuesday.  In his remarks, he vowed to abolish the so-called "2 percent rule", a regulation implementing the No Child Left Behind Act which allows the proficient scores for up to 2 percent of all students to be reported using alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards.  States without appropriate alternate assessments have also been allowed to use a "proxy" to count as proficient the scores of that group of students regardless of how they actually performed.  This practice effectively obscured the test scores of many students with disabilities.  For more information, please see the Department's press release. 

AUCD recently met with staff of Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), Chairs of the House Bipartisan Caucus on Autism, to discuss the reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act (CAA).  Smith and Doyle plan to introduce a bill soon.  While AUCD has not yet seen a draft of the legislation, it will reportedly be a scaled-back version of the bill (
S. 4044) introduced by Sen. Dodd (D-CT) at the end of the last session of Congress.  In the Senate, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will champion a bill to reauthorize the CAA.  Sen. Menendez is currently looking for a Republican co-sponsor, as there will be little chance for passage of any bill without bipartisan support.  Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) is planning to reintroduce a new version of the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act (ATAA) that he introduced in the 111th Congress.  ATAA does not reauthorize CAA.  The bill solely addresses the need for services for individuals with autism across the lifespan as well as increasing the number of professionals trained to support them.  Advocates concerned about the continuation of activities authorized under the CAA are encouraged to continue to educate Members of Congress about its impact. Use the Action Center to write to your Members now!

Americans with Disabilities Act
Revised regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect Tuesday.  Signed on July 23, 2010 by Attorney General Eric Holder, the rules adopt the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design and apply to the activities of more than 80,000 units of state and local governments as well as over seven million places of public accommodation and recreation which includes restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, museums, sporting arenas, movie theaters, hotels, jails and prisons, doctors' and dentists' offices, polling places and emergency preparedness shelters.  To assist small businesses with understanding the new and updated accessibility requirements, the DOJ has released a document entitled "ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business".  Compliance dates are available here.  View the regulations and a summary on AUCD's ADA policy page.


For copies of this and previous issues of Legislative News In Brief please visit the Public Policy Page of the AUCD website:

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