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Sponsors Offer Compromises On Anti-Discrimination Bill

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Washington--Senate sponsors of a bill intended to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow interpretation of the federal law barring sex discrimination in education have drafted new compromise language redefining which institutions are, or are not, recipients of federal aid.

They vowed to bring the bill to a vote before the Congress adjourns Oct. 4.

Proponents said the new language is intended to respond to opponents' warnings that the bill's passage would cause excessive federal intrusion and regulatory burdens on private institutions and state and local governments.

The House passed its own version of the bill in June.

'Grandfather Clause'

The amended version of the proposed civil-rights act of 1984,, has a "grandfather clause" in which "we will leave every litigant and every program other than education, which we are changing statutorily, in exactly the same situation it was prior to the day that [Grove City College v. Bell] was decided, and we will statutorily adopt the definition of recipient as it existed in the law and regulations on that date," Senator Bob Packwood, Republican of Oregon, said on the Senate floor last week.

Hatch Still Opposed

The measure's primary opponent, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said last week that although he had not yet examined the revised amendment, he would probably find it unacceptable.

"It is my understanding that they want to come up with a totally new bill, which means that this committee will not have the privilege of looking at a word of it," said Senator Hatch prior to his eighth abortive attempt to have the committee mark up the measure. On each occasion, the mark-up sessions were canceled for lack of a quorum.

Senator Hatch said it was "utterly reprehensible" that the proponents of the bill were not willing to debate the measure in committee. "This new amendment, in and of itself, seems to me to be an admission on their part that the original language was overreaching," he said.

Court's Decision

Last February, a divided Supreme Court ruled in the Grove City case that the anti-sex-discrimination provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applied only to "programs and activities" receiving federal funds, and not to entire educational institutions. Laws barring discrimination on the basis of race, age, and handicap contain identical language. (See Education Week, March 7, 1984).

The original version of the civil-rights bill would replace the program-and-activity language in the four anti-discrimination bills and replace it with the word "recipient," with the definition of that word taken from existing federal regulations, proponents of the measure said.

Negotiations Continue

Last Thursday, as the Senate be-gan consideration of a highway bill that observers say could be a vehicle for the civil-rights amendment, Senator Packwood told a press conference that he planned to bring the revised bill up for debate, if not a vote. The bill's other main sponsor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said there were still "a number of legislative options" for bringing the bill to a vote.

Senators Packwood and Kennedy appeared with 10 proponents of the bill, who took turns criticizing President Reagan's unwillingness to give his "thumbs up" to the bill, in Senator Kennedy's words.

Baker Holding Back

Although Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker of Tennessee had previously promised to bring the bill to the floor, "he is not going to move unless the Administration is with us," Senator Packwood said.

Senator Baker's staff could not be reached for comment.

Senators Kennedy, Packwood, and Baker and Administration representatives--including William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights--continued last week to try to fashion a bill the Administration could support.

With or without Administration acquiescence, Senator Kennedy said, "make no mistake--senators will vote on this bill."

'Guidance' on Grove City

In a related development, the Education Department's office for civil rights has sent a 10-page memorandum to its 10 regional offices providing "initial guidance" on the application of the Grove City decision to federal civil-rights enforcement.

Of all the department's major elementary- and secondary-education programs, said Harry M. Singleton, the assistant secretary for civil rights, in the memo, only impact aid constitutes non-earmarked federal aid that immediately triggers institutionwide coverage under the four civil-rights laws affected by the Court's decision.

He added that school districts have wide leeway in choosing how to spend their Chapter 2 education block grants, thus there is a "presumption" that receipt of such funds triggers similarly broad coverage.

Position Apparently Supported

Civil-rights groups have pointed out in the past that, because most school districts receive either impact-aid or block-grant funds, most public schools in the country must still comply with Title IX and the other anti-discrimination statutes in all their programs and activities. Mr. Singleton's directive appeared to support their position.

Because Chapter 2 payments may be used by local education agencies "at [their] complete discretion to provide financial aid to any and all elementary- and secondary-education programs, ... there is a presumption that all of a [local education agency's] programs and activities are subject to ocr's jurisdiction," Mr. Singleton said.

In addition, he said, impact-aid funds constitute non-earmarked aid ''as most [local education agencies] deposit these payments in their general fund." As a result, "all of the programs and activities of the [local agency] are subject to ocr's jurisdiction," Mr. Singleton said.

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