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House Panels Pass Bill Broadening Rights Coverage

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Washington--Two House committees ignored the advice of two high-ranking Reagan Administration officials last week and overwhelmingly approved a bill that would broaden the scope of four federal anti-discrimination laws.

The House Judiciary Committee and the Education and Labor Committee approved the bill, HR 5490, with a minimum of debate less than a day after William Bradford Reynolds, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, warned of its "unsettling ambiguities."

Shortly after the two committees cleared it for consideration by the full House, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said during a press conference that the bill "will cause some extensive reaching out that I don't think its major sponsors really intended." He indicated that the Administration will urge the Republican-controlled Senate to amend its version of the bill, S 2568, in order "to get the response we want."

The Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee and Subcommittee on the Handicapped began hearings on the measure late last week. During the opening hearing, the chairman of the panels' parent Labor and Human Resources Committee, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, indicated that he would offer amendments to the bill to make it "definitive, workable, and effective."

Lobbyists promoting the bill pointed out, however, that Senator Hatch will probably have a hard time winning approval for his amendments because 11 of the full committee's 18 members are co-sponsors of S 2568 and are expected to vote down any changes to the bill. They added that amendments offered on the Senate floor will probably face similar opposition since the bill has a total of 63 co-sponsors.

Response to Court Ruling

According to the bill's sponsors, the proposed "civil rights act of 1984" is intended to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow reading of the law that mandates equal treatment of men and women in education and its expected extension of that reading to similar laws prohibiting bias on the basis of race, age, or handicap. (See Education Week, March 7, 1984)

In its February decision in Grove City College v. Bell, the Court adopted the Administration's position that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 can be enforced only in the "program or activity" of an educational institution that receives federal aid. Previous Administrations had enforced the law on an institutionwide basis if schools and colleges received any type or amount of assistance.

The measure would restore the institutionwide scope of the four anti-discrimination statutes by replacing the "program or activity" language in them with the term "recipient."

'Unnecessary Tension'

In his May 22 testimony before a joint hearing of the Education and Labor Committee and the Civil and Constitutional Rights Subcommittee, Mr. Reynolds said that the bill "as currently drafted, poses a tension--in my view, an unnecessary tension--between [the] two important principles of equal opportunity and limited federal involvement in state and local affairs."

Further, he contended that the Court's "programmatic" reading of Title IX in the Grove City case "represents no change in the law."

"While some federal agencies had previously pursued a more expan4sive reading of the statute, ... the fact is that, before Grove City, every court of appeals except the Third Circuit in the Grove City case itself had construed Title IX to be program-specific in coverage," he said.

Mr. Reynolds suggested that if it is the Congress's intent to enact new legislation that "significantly expands the current law addressing federal civil-rights enforcement," the more expansive purpose underlying HR 5490 should be openly acknowledged.

Clarifications Urged

Among the elements of the bill that should be clarified, Mr. Reynolds said, are the ambiguity of the term "recipient," the standards and methods for enforcing the bill, and the "administrative complexities'' that would accompany the bill's enactment.

Mr. Reynolds indicated that the Administration favors an alternative measure, HR 5011, introduced in March by Representative Claudine Schneider, Republican of Rhode Island.

That bill would nullify the Grove City decision simply by adding the term "institution" to the "program or activity" language in Title IX. It8does not, however, correct the same structural problems found in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Administration Divided

During his press conference last week, Mr. Bell acknowledged that the Administration "has been having problems arriving at an agreement" on how best to remedy the situation created by the Grove City decision.

The Administration "speaks with one voice only after we all have had an opportunity to have our say," he said. "Of course, there are always differing points of view. That's a given."

An apparent example of the difference of opinion emerged during the briefing when Mr. Bell stated that HR 5011--which Mr. Reynolds had promoted a day earlier--"does not go far enough to reverse the effects" of the Grove City decision.

On the other hand, he added, the enactment of HR 5490 would result in "over-extensive coverage the way it is written." The proper response to the situation, Mr. Bell indicated, would be to find a middle ground between the two bills.

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