It’s that time of year again, birds are chirping, bees are buzzing and the latest introduction of the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act has just occurred. This is an important Bill for Parents who are trying to exercise their Due Process Rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Why is that? The Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that while Parents can be reimbursed for Attorney Fees, if they prevail, they can’t be reimbursed for Expert Witness Fees. This puts Parents at a major disadvantage to all of the School Districts who already employee these types of specialists. The Supreme Court has also ruled in the past that the “Burden of Proof” in any IDEA related case is on the Party that files. This means that when a Parent files a Due Process complaint they must prove their case or the Hearing Officer must assume the School District is in the right. You can only prove your case with facts and testimony from Experts in the field. Parents are spending thousands of dollars to hire Expert witnesses to assess their children and testify at the Hearings on their behalf. The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act would add to IDEA that Expert Witness fees could be reimbursed to Parents who prevail in a Due Process Hearing.
As you can see this is a wonderful and important Bill for Parents and would level the playing field in Due Process cases where Parents do not have the means to hire Experts without reimbursement. The problem is this is not the first time or even the second time this Bill has been introduced. This is the Third time. The first introduction of this Bill, H.R. 4188, took place on November 14, 2007 in the 110th Congress. It was then referred to committee and never heard from again. The best term would be “DOA or Dead on Arrival”. The second introduction of this Bill, H.R. 2740, took place on June 4, 2009 in the 111th Congress. It was also referred to committee and never heard from again. The current and third introduction of this Bill, H.R. 1208 and S. 613, took place on March 17, 2011 in the 112th Congress. If you are having problems remembering back to your High School Civics class this is the way it works:
- A Bill is introduced in the House or Senate;
- The Bill is referred to a Committee;
- The Committee reports on the Bill;
- A vote is conducted in either the House or Senate depending on which part of Congress initiated the Bill;
- If passed in one legislative body it moves on to the other legislative body to be voted on; and
- If it passes in both the House and Congress it would move on for the President to sign.
Exhausting, isn’t it? So as you can see this is the third time this important Bill has been introduced and it’s never made it out of Committee. So why I am so optimistic that this is finally the year? Even though this is the third time the Bill has been introduced in the House, it is the first time it has been introduced in the Senate. We have two bites at the apple, so to speak! I also like what I’m hearing from Senator Harkin who introduced the Senate Bill and made the following Statement. As with everything in Government it is not enough to sit back and hope this Bill makes it out of Committee the public needs to make their voices heard. For this reason, it is important for all of the 6 million plus families who have Children with IEP’s to call their local Senator and Congressman and ask that they support this Bill.
You can also call the individual members of the two Committees reviewing the Bills and make your support known that way as well. The House Bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. You can find the members of both Committees on the links provided above.
As I end this blog I can’t think of a better way than to leave you with an excerpt from Senator Harkins statement, “This legislation is an essential step for protecting the rights of students with disabilities and ensuring that all families, regardless of their financial resources, can advocate for and protect their children’s rights through due process.”