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House Panels Clear Rights Bill; Abortion Riders Cloud Future

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Washington--The major civil-rights bill that passed in the House but died in the Senate last year cleared major hurdles last week on its way to another vote in the House.

Both the Education and Judiciary Committees cleared the bill, HR 700, which is designed to nullify the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1984 decision in Grove City College v. Bell. That ruling narrowed the scope of the federal law barring sex discrimination in education and, because of the common language of civil-rights laws, statutes barring discrimination on the basis of race, age, and handicap.

Since the ruling, the Education Department has suspended 61 civil-rights investigations, five involving alleged discrimination in high schools. (See Education Week, March 20, 1985.)

The two House committees approved slightly different measures and the Rules Committee must now decide which version will be reported to the full House. The major differences between the two bills involve language in amendments relating to abortion and exemptions for religious organizations.

The bill could reach the House floor by mid-June.

Civil-rights advocates prefer the Judiciary Committee bill because of its "abortion-neutral" language, according to Ralph G. Neas, the lead lobbyist for the bill and executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of 165 groups.

The provision, a "disclaimer with respect to abortion," was introduced by Representative Don Edwards, Democrat of California, in response to broader abortion-related language introduced by Republican Representatives Thomas J. Tauke of Iowa in the Education Committee and F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin in the Judiciary Committee.

The Education Committee's bill would allow teaching hospitals that receive federal education funds to limit their duty to perform some abortions. This provision could scuttle the legislation, bogging it down in a debate over abortion, said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

There has not been any Senate action, but the Senate version of the bill has 48 co-sponsors, according to Mr. Neas. The House bill has 207 co-sponsors.--jh

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