G.O.P. Group Backs Bill To Shift Civil-Rights Responsibilities
Washington--Twenty-four Republican Congressmen have added their names to a bill introduced last week that would transfer responsibility for the enforcement of civil-rights laws affecting states and school systems from the Education Department (ed) to the Justice Department.
The proposal would reorganize the ed office for civil rights along lines also proposed by the Reagan Administration in its plan to reduce the Education Department to a sub-Cabinet-level foundation.
Both proposals, which reportedly were developed independently of each other, would permit the education civil-rights office to investigate complaints and conduct compliance reviews, to enter into negotiations for voluntary compliance, and to provide technical assistance.
The enforcement of civil-rights laws would, however, be transferred to the Justice Department under both plans.
The education-related laws affected by the plans include Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In addition to those laws, the House bill, which was prepared by an ''information-exchange" consortium of Republican members known as the House Wednesday Group, would transfer enforcement of 35 other federal civil-rights laws to the Justice Department. Those laws are currently enforced by civil-rights offices in 41 separate federal agencies.
The bill would also set up detailed enforcement procedures and timeta-bles for the Justice Department to follow in resolving complaints.
The proposal, which members of the group characterized as "a starting point" for a Congressional effort to consolidate civil-rights enforcement throughout the federal government, is the latest of several attempts by the House Wednesday Group to provoke action on the issue by other House members.
A previous version introduced in 1977 and again in January of last year would have outlawed mandatory busing for school desegregation, eliminated goals and timetables in affirmative-action suits, and altered the requirements for state re-districting plans under the Voting Rights Act, according to Steven Hofman, the staff director of the group. In addition, that version would have replaced all civil-rights laws with a single statute.
Gary L. Jones, the Education Department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, said he had not seen the Wednesday Group's proposal and did not know whether the Reagan Administration would support the bill.
He added that if the Administration's plan to abolish the department fails to pass the Congress this year, the House bill "sounds like an appealing idea."
Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York, one of two principal sponsors of the bill--known as the "Civil Rights Act of 1982"--said his group had sent a draft of it to the Justice Department and to the White House.
Representative Fish characterized the latest version as a "management-oriented effort to consolidate and streamline federal civil-rights efforts."
Representative M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia, the bill's other principal sponsor, added: "Our federal enforcement system has become an administrative legal maze, which often frustrates more than helps intended beneficiaries.
"Some agencies have formal complaint procedures; others do not. Some have established time frames for action on a complaint; others have different time frames or no time frames. Many agencies faced with an ever-mounting complaint backlog often fail to respond to complaints at all," he continued.
Although Representative Fish said the House Wednesday Group had been "working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and using their suggestions for improvement in the 1977 bill," the civil-rights group was not pleased with the latest version.
Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the leadership conference, a coalition of 157 labor, religious, and civil-rights organizations, issued a statement that said that although "we appreciate and support the ... desire to improve the effectiveness of the federal civil-rights enforcement effort, we must oppose the [bill]. Despite the incorporation of significant improvements over the past several months, the bill still has too many substantive problems, particularly regarding the enforcement roles of the Department of Justice...."
"In addition, we believe that this is the wrong time to call for the comprehensive reform of the civil-rights enforcement structure, for as is becoming painfully apparent to everyone, the effective enforcement of our fundamental civil-rights laws is now under a serious and concentrated attack by the Department of Justice. That is where we should be focusing our principal attention," Mr. Neas's statement said.