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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said the HELP Committee today moved forward two critical bills, the “Head Start for School Readiness Act,” S. 556, and the “Mental Health Parity Act of 2007,” S. 558, legislation he believes reflects the Committee’s commitment to reach across the aisle and seek common-sense solutions for the challenges facing America’s working families.


Head Start for School Readiness Act – S. 556



            “Early childhood development is often a key indicator of how a student will perform throughout elementary school,” Enzi said. “We must maximize the impact of the Head Start program to provide children with the building blocks for success and lay the foundation for high achievement. This bill will ensure that all children, regardless of background, enter school ready to learn and succeed.”


            S. 556, introduced by Enzi, Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Chairman of the HELP Committee, Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Chairman of the Children and Families Subcommittee, and Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Ranking Member of the Children and Families Subcommittee, sets clear goals and standards for Head Start programs, improves coordination with other early childhood education programs, and strengthens program accountability.


            “For many students, Head Start is the beginning of a lifetime of learning opportunities,” Enzi said. “It is vital that we set clear goals and standards for this critical first step to ensure that these children can develop the knowledge and skills they need to learn and succeed in school. This bill is also designed to get teachers the resources they need to reach higher, to succeed in their goals and ensure that Head Start programs maximize the positive impact they have on children.”


Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 – S. 558



            “The Mental Health Parity Act is a carefully constructed, fair bill that could only be reached by bringing together employer, insurance and mental health communities and asking them to set aside partisanship and find a common ground,” Enzi said. “By bringing everyone to the table to air concerns and determine areas of agreement, we have finally overcome years of legislative paralysis to make progress for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.”


            The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 represents the culmination of more than a year’s negotiations involving lawmakers, mental health, insurance and business organizations to craft compromise legislation. The new policy would build on the landmark 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, a law authored by Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone that began the process of ending health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness.


            The bill does not mandate group plans to provide any mental health coverage, but it does require health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide that coverage on par with financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses.


            “I want to thank my colleagues Senator Pete Domenici and Senator Ted Kennedy for their extraordinary dedication and leadership on the issue of mental health parity,” Enzi said. “Their commitment and willingness to compromise has gotten us to the point where we are today - passing a mental health parity bill out of the HELP Committee that has the potential to be signed into law this year.”


            The two bills are now ready to be debated by the full Senate at the discretion of the Senate leadership.