Legislative News InBrief

January 29, 2007

State of the Union
President Bush tried to reach out to the Democratically-controlled Congress during his State of the Union Address by making health care expansion one of this top domestic policy priorities. The health care plan has two parts: one involves tax deductions of $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for families to be available for purchasing health care; the second piece is a new "Affordable Choices" state grants program, which would be funded with up to $30 billion in existing health care funds, redirected away from Medicare and Medicaid programs such as disproportionate share hospital (DSH). "When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled and poor children," he said in the address. House and Senate Democratic leaders immediately responded to the plans with skepticism. "His proposal would do little to help the uninsured, most of whom have limited incomes and are in low tax brackets," said John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

On other domestic policy issues, Bush called on Congress to balance the budget within five years, cut the number and cost of earmarks in half and overhaul entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He also urged Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (PL 107-110).

The day after the President's State of the Union Address, the US Department of Education announced the Administration's recommendations for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. AUCD staff participated on a conference call sponsored by ED where Alexa Posny, OSEP director, gave the highlights of the proposals that would directly affect students with disabilities. Highlights of the proposal entitled "Building on Results" is on the Department of Ed's website.

In related news, following a recent meeting at the White House with President Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spelling, education committee chairs Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said they were not in a hurry to reauthorize the law and wanted to see if the President was going to provide sufficient funds for the law in his upcoming budget. Kennedy also plans to hold extensive hearings on the law before drafting a plan.

The House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) are sponsoring a series of joint briefings on the NCLB reauthorization. The first in the series takes place this week on the intersection of the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) and NCLB.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to mark up a bill (S. 358), sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) Wednesday to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information with respect to health insurance and employment. The House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions will hold a hearing on Tuesday. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 16 by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

Voting Rights
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Task Force issued a position statement on the issue of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT) in anticipation of federal legislation being introduced to address the issue (see Jan. 8 In Brief). CCD's position does not have a blanket policy either for or against paper trails. The position of CCD is that if a paper audit trail or other means of independent vote verification is used in any jurisdiction, then the means of vote verification must be accessible to all individuals with disabilities at the same time as the requirement goes into effect for all voters. Accordingly, CCD would oppose any paper audit trail or other means of independent vote verification requirement that does not meet this standard.

Social Security
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on President Bush's nominee for Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. The committee will likely vote on his nomination this week. If confirmed Astrue will serve a six-year term, succeeding Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart, whose term ended January 19.

Disability Policy Seminar
The Disability Policy Seminar, co-sponsored by AUCD along with The Arc, UCP, NACDD, and AAIDD will be held March 4-6. Issues that will be addressed include the NCLB, Higher Education Act, Rehab Act, DD Act, Family Support, ADA, and appropriations for all disability programs. A special panel is being planned at this year's Disability Policy Seminar to discuss legislation addressing autism spectrum disorder, including the Combating Autism Act passed last year and new legislation currently in development. Online registration is available with special rates for trainees, self-advocates, and family members. The deadline to register without penalty is Feb. 8. A preliminary program and agenda are available on the AUCD website.