AUCD Legislative News In Brief
October 12, 2009
Vol. IX, Issue 43
The House and Senate are on recess today, Columbus Day. Normally, the Congress takes the whole week off; however, House and Senate leaders kept lawmakers in D.C. to continue working on health care reform. The House will continue consideration of appropriations bills. No date has been set for the L-HHS-ED appropriations bill. AUCD network programs are still working under a continuing resolution at FY 09 funding levels (see previous issues of In Brief for more information).
Hate Crimes Bill
After almost ten years of advocacy, the Local Law Enforcement and Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909/H.R. 1913) is very close to becoming law! The bill, which would expand the definition of hate crimes to include those targeted toward disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity, was included in the FY10 Defense authorization conference bill. The House voted Thursday to approve the bill, 281-146, with most of the "no" votes cast by Republicans based on opposition to the hate crimes provision. Before the vote on final passage, Republicans narrowly lost a vote, 216-208, to eliminate the hate crimes language. In addition to expanding the federal definition, the bill would increase Department of Justice personnel and authorize grants to assist state and local law enforcement agencies to combat hate crimes. The bill was a high priority for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). In the House, the effort was led by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). President Obama stated his intention to sign the bill into law.
Health Care Reform
The Senate Finance Committee delayed a final vote on its health care reform bill so that Committee Members could review the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score. The news from CBO was even better than expected. CBO determined the bill would reduce the federal deficit $81 billion over 10 years. The Committee will vote on the bill this week. Meanwhile, Senate leaders have already begun to merge the HELP and Finance Committee bills to prepare for a vote on the floor. AUCD and about a hundred disability and aging advocates participated on a second Hill visit day over a two week period last Thursday visiting every Senate office to advocate for inclusion of the Community First Choice Option and the CLASSS Act in the final health care reform bill. The Community First Choice Option is included in the Finance Committee bill and the CLASS Act is in the HELP Committee bill. AUCD also signed onto a coalition letter urging inclusion of long term services and supports provisions and another coalition letter urging the retention of health disparities provisions. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been working with Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and other House Democratic leaders to meld the work of three House committees into a single measure designed to attract enough Democratic votes to assure its passage.
AUCD signed on to a coalition letter to Senate leaders making final decisions on what goes into the health care reform bill. The letter states that the final health reform legislation must, at a minimum, include: data collection, analyses, and quality; health care quality improvements; health workforce and infrastructure investment; access to language services for limited English proficient patients; and prevention and wellness provisions. Such provisions are critical to efforts to close the gaps in health status and health care. See the entire letter on the public policy website.
Restraint and Seclusion
AUCD signed onto a letter denouncing the practices at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts. This letter was sent to various Federal Agencies and Human Rights groups. At the center students are subjected to various forms of abuse and maltreatment in the name of education, treatment and therapy. The letter and a related addendum are available on the AUCD Policy website.
Secretary Duncan Town Hall
Secretary Duncan announced that he will hold a national town hall on October 20 at 8 pm (EST) regarding the value of skilled teacher professionals to our education system. During the hour-long program Duncan will take questions from teachers submitted via telephone, email, and video. Secretary Duncan hopes the conversation will address ways to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for more information about the town hall visit www.ed.gov/edtv .
Obama Administration Nominations
The Senate voted to confirm Alexa Posny to be Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education on Monday, October 5. Previously, Posny had been the Commissioner of Education in Kansas as well as holding a variety of positions in the field of Special Education.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Oct. 7 approved by voice vote the nomination of Regina Benjamin to be U.S. surgeon general. “I am personally encouraged by Dr. Regina Benjamin’s commitment to prevention and wellness. With the health reform legislation putting a sharp new emphasis on prevention and public health, we could not ask for a more dedicated or committed Surgeon General,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the HELP committee, said in a statement. Benjamin is founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Clinic, in Bayou La Batre, Ala. The clinic serves a population of about 2,500 and was rebuilt twice due to damage caused by hurricanes Georges and Katrina.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) just released a report (Oct. 7, 2009; GAO-10-112T) on state and federal actions that have been taken to improve access to Medicaid beneficiaries to dental care. Children’s access to Medicaid dental services is a long-standing concern. The tragic case of a 12-year-old boy in Maryland who died from an untreated infected tooth that led to a fatal brain infection brought renewed attention to the issue. In the report, GAO recommends that CMS develop a plan to review dental services in states with low utilization rates, ensure that states found to have inadequate managed care provider networks strengthen their networks, develop additional guidance, and identify ways to improve sharing of promising practices among states. CMS generally concurred with GAO’s recommendations. The full report is online at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10112t.pdf
AUCD Policy Analyst
AUCD welcomes its new policy analyst, Ellen Jensby, today! Ellen Jensby, J.D. is an Attorney licensed to practice law in Kansas. Ellen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma and a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas School of Law. At Oklahoma, she completed a joint practicum with the Developmental Disabilities Services Division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the Center for Learning and Leadership/Oklahoma UCEDD. As a member of the Public Interest Law Society at KU Law, Ellen participated in the Guardianship Assistance Program in partnership with The Arc of Sedgwick County, Kansas. During her third year of law school, Ellen worked as a law clerk for the Disability Rights Center of Kansas (DRC), the Protection and Advocacy agency for the state. She will be working with AUCD’s legislative affairs staff on rights, education, and employment issues. She may be contacted at Ejensby@aucd.org.