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House Set for Vote on Equal Access After 'Shortcut'

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The so-called "equal-access" measure, HR 5345, will come up under suspension of the rules, a method normally reserved for noncontroversial matters, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. announced during a reportedly stormy meeting of the chamber's Democratic caucus on May 9. Bills brought up under this procedure require a two-thirds vote for passage.

Representative O'Neill reportedly agreed to the fast-track approach for the bill at the request of Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky and chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

Strong Opposition

Although the bill was approved by the education panel by a vote of 30 to 3 on April 5, it has run into strong opposition from the chairman of the Civil and Constitutional Rights Subcommittee, Representative Don Edwards, Democrat of California.

Representative Edwards, who claims that the bill represents a "back-door" means of re-introducing prayer in public schools, has the support of a number of civil-rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

Congressional observers pointed out last week that the bill has widespread support among Republicans and Democrats and may be approved by a majority of those voting. But, they added, it is unclear whether it will win the requisite two-thirds majority, particularly if there is a large turnout for the vote.--tm

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