Legislative News InBrief

April 2, 2007

Congressional Schedule
The House and Senate are on Easter recess this week. The Senate will return on April 10 and the House will return on April 16. Recess presents a good opportunity to connect with members in their home districts; and at this time, particularly concerning appropriations for important programs. For issues to consider discussing with your Members, see the policy seminar fact sheets and the AUCD action center for updated alerts.

Emergency Supplemental
Last week the Senate approved a $123.2 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hurricane relief, veterans' health and agriculture disaster aid. The vote was 51-47, with Sens. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) the only Republicans supporting it. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) voted against the bill. The measure endorses a March 31, 2008, pullout date from Iraq. President Bush vowed to veto the bill because of the extra nonmilitary spending and the Iraq withdrawal timeline.

FY08 Budget
Also last week, the House approved a $3 trillion budget resolution on a 216-210 vote. The Republican alternative, which called for $279 billion in spending cuts over five years and a freeze in non-defense discretionary spending, was rejected, 268-160. Versions offered by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democrats' progressive wing were also rejected by lopsided margins. The bill foresees a $153 billion surplus by FY2012, while adhering to pay-as-you-go rules requiring tax cuts and entitlement spending to be offset. The budget would also increase discretionary spending by $24 billion, and it includes several "reserve" funds to ensure such Democratic priorities as the farm bill and relief from the alternative minimum tax are included, provided they are offset. But the resolution fails to spell out how to pay for those priorities. The Senate bill was adopted on March 23 on a 52-47 vote. The Budget process now moves to a conference committee. Hill staff said they hope to finish by the first week of May. Key issues in negotiations will include the extension of some tax breaks and offsets for SCHIP. The House version also includes approximately $7 billion more than the Senate in discretionary funding.

FY08 Appropriations
AUCD submitted written testimony to the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee on funding for the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities, and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers. The AUCD testimony requests an appropriation of $37,600,000 for UCEDDs which will allow for all of the existing Centers to be fully funded at the authorized level of $500,000, provide a cost of living adjustment for the first time in four years to each Center, support additional training initiatives in emerging national needs, provide technical assistance, as well as to establish up to six Center planning grants at Minority Serving Institutions that will specialize in minority health disparities. AUCD is requesting an increase in funding set aside for LEND programs to $24,067,664, an increase of $5,400,000, within the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance. The increase would begin the expansion of the programs as authorized by the Combating Autism Act by providing funds to expand one-half of the existing LEND programs and adding four new LEND programs in states that do not currently have one. For DDRCs, AUCD is advocating for the committee to increase NIH funding by 6.7% to $30.8 billion for FY 2008. This would restore funding lost to NIH since 2003. In addition, AUCD is asking the committee to increase funding by 6.7% for NICHD to the level of $1.337 billion restore recent cuts in DDRC funding. During the last few fiscal years critical research being conducted at the DDRCs has slowed due to cuts in the NIH budget. Since the doubling of NIH funding ended in 2003, funding for NIH has failed to keep pace with biomedical inflation and as a result, NIH has lost more than 13% of its purchasing power. The full testimony is on AUCD's website under "public policy."

Community Choice Act
Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) introduced the Community Choice Act (HR 1621). The Community Choice Act would help correct the institutional bias in Medicaid long-term services funding. The bill is a companion to the Senate version (S.799), which was introduced by Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Specter (R-PA). The Senate version has 8 additional co-sponsors: Biden (D-DE), Clinton (D-NY), Dodd (D-CT), Inouye (D-HI), Kennedy (D-MA), Lieberman (I-CT), Salazar (D-CO), and Schumer (D-NY). AUCD created an action alert to contact both Senate and House members and urge them to co-sponsor the Community Choice Act

Dental Services
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce-Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on March 27 concerning dental care for children. The hearing was triggered by the highly publicized cases of young children from low-income families in Maryland and Mississippi who recently died from untreated dental disease. Key witnesses included Kathleen Roth and Nicholas Mosca from the American Dental Association and Stephen Corbin of Special Olympics International who called for greater outreach through cross training with social workers and dental professionals. Corbin discussed Special Olympics wellness initiatives and the dental condition of people with disabilities. He indicated 30% of Special Olympics athletes arrive to the event with apparent gingival infections, 25% arrive with obvious tooth decay, and 25% arrive with missing teeth. Lack of access due to reimbursements is compounded for children with intellectual or developmental disabilities by lack of training of professionals. Chairman Dingell (D-MI) introduced the Children's Dental Health Improvement Act of 2007 on Friday to address issues of dental care in SCHIP and improve community dental services and training.

Protecting Children's Health in Schools Act of 2007
AUCD signed on to a thank you letter sent to Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR) and Representatives Dingell (D-MI), Miller (D-CA), and Whitfield (R-KY) concerning the Protecting Children's Health in Schools Act of 2007 (S. 578 and H.R. 1017). This bill would help protect critical Medicaid reimbursements for services provided to children in schools.

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing concerning NCLB and students with disabilities last Thursday. Witnesses included Jane Rhyne (Assistant Superintendent, Programs for Exceptional Children), Rebecca Cort (Deputy Commissioner, New York State Education Department, Office for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities), Rachel Quenemoen (Senior Research Fellow, National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota), Michael Hardman (Dean-Designate, College of Education, University of Utah), and William Henderson (Principal, The O'Hearn Elementary School). Issues raised during questioning included universal design, growth models, and assessments. AUCD signed on to a letter supporting the addition of legislative language concerning universal design and new language supporting use of positive behavioral supports in the reauthorization of NCLB.

AUCD signed on to a letter in support of a bill (H.R. 821) to fully fund IDEA to the promised 40% of the National Average per Pupil Expenditure for every child in special education. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Van Hollen (D-MD), Ferguson (R-NY), and (D-OR) Hooley.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act
Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. H.R. 1592 would grant agencies the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes based on the victim's disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, whether real or perceived, and would authorize funding to states to help with prosecution of hate crimes. A Senate version is expected to be introduced in April.

Kinship Caregiver Support Act
The Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 661) was reintroduced February 16 by Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Snowe (R-ME). The bill includes five provisions beginning with its major provision on subsidized guardianship. Federal subsidized guardianship would give states the option of using federal funds to provide payments to relative caregivers on behalf of the children in foster care they are raising. The bill also establishes a navigator program which will serve as a one stop shop for information to link relative caregivers with local services and supports. Other provisions include requiring foster care agencies to reach out to family when a child is removed from an abusive or neglectful home, expanding eligibility to allow foster care youth to access higher education assistance, and permitting states to establish separate licensing standards for relative foster parents.

Safe Pediatric Drugs and Medical Devices
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has introduced the Pediatric Research Improvement Act, legislation that would reauthorize the Pediatric Research Equity Act and make permanent the FDA's authority to require submission of pediatric clinical trial data for drugs designed for children. Without action by September 30, the FDA's authority to require drug companies to submit pediatric data ("The Pediatric Rule") will expire. In a recent hearing of the Senate HELP Committee on ensuring safe medicines and medical devices for children, Senator Clinton spoke to the need for making the Pediatric Rule permanent and also endorsed reauthorization of bills addressing safe pediatric drug and medical device research, development and regulation. Specifically, the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act and the Pediatric Research Equity Act have increased understanding of the way drugs work in a pediatric population, but both of these Acts are scheduled to expire in September if they're not reauthorized. Clinton will also be co-sponsoring with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) the Pediatric Medical Devices Safety and Improvement Act that aims to improve the number and types of medical devices designed for pediatric populations.

UN Convention on Right of Persons with Disabilities
The opening day for countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was Friday, March 30. Eighty one countries have ratified the convention so far. The US has not signed the convention. AUCD prepared an action alert to encourage the US to sign