As part of our core mission, AutCom advocates for and against public policy initiatives that would impact the rights of people with autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and related differences of communication and behavior. The issues that we are working on at this time include:
For more information on AutCom’s Congressional Activities, please contact Jessica Butler, AutCom Congressional Affairs Coordinator, at email@example.com
ABLE act of 2014
At the very end of the 2013-2014 Congressional Session, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was passed and signed into law.
Before the ABLE Act, individuals witih disabilities could have only $2,000 in savings before losing SSI benefits and Medicaid. Now they will be able to accumulate assets in an account modeled after 529 college savings plans. Interest earned on these accounts will be tax-free. Funds accrued in the accounts can be used to pay for education, health care, transportation, housing, training, assistive technology, personal support, and related services and expenses without jeopardizing SSI and Medicaid. To be eligible, individuals must have a condition that occurred before age 26 and each person may open only one ABLE account. Under current gift-tax limitations, up to $14,000 can be deposited annually.
People with disabilities may be able to start opening ABLE accounts as soon as 2015. However, some hurdles remain. While the new law alters federal rules to allow for ABLE accounts, each state must now put regulations in place — much as they have done for other types of 529 plans — so that financial institutions can make the new offering available.
Begin in January to advocate for your state legislature to get those regulations in place quickly.
On April 24, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration will convene an open meeting and hearing of its public advisory committee on neurological devices. The committee will make recommendations to the FDA about banning “aversive conditioning devices that are intended to administer a noxious electrical stimulus to a patient to modify undesirable behavioral characteristics.”
AutCom believes strongly that such devices should be banned. In 1995, AutCom was one of the first autism organizations to speak out opposing their use. The committee is accepting testimony and comments before its meeting. To sign up to testify in the afternoon, you must register by Friday, April 4. You should submit written comments by April 14 if you wish the committee and FDA to consider them. Comments after April 14 and before June 24 will be considered by the FDA alone. Submit your comments at the same link above. If you write a letter or document that you attach to your comments or that you send to the FDA, it is important to put this docket number at the top: FDA-2014-N-0238.
AutCom strongly supports Congressional legislation to protect children from dangerous restraint and seclusion. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has documented the deaths of 20 children from restraint and seclusion. Other children have suffered injuries, including broken bones, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Restraint and seclusion are disproportionately used against children with disabilities and minorities. AutCom salutes Congressman George Miller and Senator Tom Harkin for championing strong restraint and seclusion legislation in Congress over the years, through bills, House hearings, Senate hearings, and other activities. We look forward to the day when all children in this country are protected from these very dangerous practices.
In February 2014, Senator Tom Harkin introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act, S. 2036. This important bill will reduce and eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools nationwide. Thousands of children are subjected to dangerous restraint and seclusion every year, resulting in death, injury, and trauma. In March 2014, AutCom led a coalition of more than 200 national, state and local organizations in supporting this bill.
The companion bill in the U.S. House, HR 1893, was introduced in May 2013 by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), ranking member of the House Education & Workforce Committee and Congressman Gregg Harper (R-MS). You can watch Congressman Miller’s speech on youtube.com. Here is a letter from over 200 national, state, and local organizations supporting the Keeping All Students Safe Act and urging that restraint and seclusion be limited to emergencies threatening physical harm and that parents be notified of their use.
Please contact your Senators and your Representative and ask them to cosponsor the Keeping All Students Safe Act, S. 2036/H.R. 1893. You can call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask for your the office of your Senator and/or Representative, and then ask for the education aide. If you are unable to call and need to use email, you can look up their contact info at http://www.senate.gov/ and http://www.house.gov/. But please call if you can; they take calls very seriously because they are harder to make.
We have the following resources available to help you:
Here is a Summary and Analysis of State Restraint and Seclusion Laws and policies. This review of state policies is updated and includes the most recent laws and regulations about seclusions and restraint. Here is a Brief Description of each state's restraint and seclusion laws called My State's Restraint and Seclusion Laws. This is a shorter document than How Safe is the Schoolhouse to just look up your state's laws.
The Autism National Committee strongly supports ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is modeled on the ADA. By ratifying the CPRD, the United States can work to help other countries adopt strong policies protecting the rights of people with disabilities, similar to our own Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People with autism in foreign countries may receive little or no support, particularly in the developing world. They may be ostracized and institutionalized, kept away from their families and communities. The CRPD will also protect Americans with disabilities who work and travel abroad. It will not affect America's laws, including those on education and homeschooling; those will continue to be controlled by state law because of reservations that are part of the ratification process. You can read AutCom's recent letter in support of the CRPD here.
Please call or email your Senators and ask them to vote to ratify the CRPD. You can find their contact information here: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml. To learn more about the CRPD and information you can share with your Senators, please visit AutCom’s blog. You can also read the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities Report: Neglected and Abused Abroad: A Look at the Severe Mistreatment of Individuals with Disabilities Around the World and How the U.S. Can Help.
This summer, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee considered the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA), legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Committee voted to approve the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Harkin. It is awaiting consideration on the Senate Floor.
This summer, the House of Representatives considered the Student Success Act. This bill would allow schools take students with disabilities off track to graduate high school and become college and career ready. It would have given schools the ability to expand alternate assessments tied to weaker achievement standards, so that students with disabilities received poorer quality educations with little accountability. The bill was approved by the full House. Congressman George Miller, Ranking Member of the House Education and Labor Committee, offered substitute legislation that, like the Senate SASA, would have helped ensure a high quality education for America’s 6 million students with disabilities, including those with autism. The Miller substitute was not approved.
The Harkin and Miller bills were designed to ensure accountability for performance targets for all students, and would have ensured that students with disabilities are assessed with the same assessments as their peers, so that they can receive grade-level educations. The bills restricted the use of assessments tied to weaker achievement standards, including the
alternate assessment to modified achievement standards and alternate assessment to alternate achievement standards. They bills improved school climate and promoted universal design for learning, early education, and multi-tiered interventions. You can read AutCom’s letter in support of the pending Senate SASA bill and AutCom’s letter in support of Congressman Miller’s substitute in the House.
The House also considered an amendment from Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers that would have prevented expansion of the alternate assessments, and ensured that students with disabilities were integrated into the fabric of their schools and received high quality educations. This amendment was later withdrawn and was not voted on for technical reasons. Representatives George Miller, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jared Polis, and Gregg Harper gave speeches about this important issue, which has bipartisan support. You can read their speeches in the Congressional Record (go to page H4698 of the link).
In Fall 2013, Senator Tom Harkin published High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age for the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. AutCom commends Senator Harkin and his colleagues on the report, which documents the persistent gap in workforce participation for millions of young adults with disabilities. “The goals of equality of opportunity, full participation in American society, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency are the birthright” of Americans with disabilities, Senator Harkin said as he released it.
When parents are forced in IDEA cases to seek an impartial due process hearing, they must be able to afford expert witness fees. Although Congress intended that parents be able to recover expert fees if they prevail at a hearing, the Supreme Court held in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy (2006) that they could not. But few middle and lower-income families can afford expert witnesses; approximately 36% of children with disabilities live in families earning less than $25,000 a year. The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (S.613 and H.R. 1208), introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Chris Van Hollen, would restore Congress’ intent and allow parents to recover expert fees.
Here are some more documents regarding this issue: