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House Approves Grove City Bill; Reagan Promises Veto

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Washington--The House last week overwhelmingly approved legislation broadening the reach of civil-rights laws narrowed by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1984 Grove City decision.

The action makes it likely that institution-wide coverage for schools and colleges will become law.

President Reagan said in a letter to Congressional leaders that he would veto the bill, which was passed by the Senate in January.

But the proposed "civil rights restoration act" was approved by margins greater than the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto, passing 315 to 98 in the House and 75 to 14 in the Senate.

House leaders brought the Senate bill, S 557, to the floor without hearings or a committee vote. They also brought it up under a rule that allowed only one proposed amendment to be presented, a Republican-backed alternative bill that was defeated by a tally of 266 to 146. It would have broadened exemptions for religious institutions and narrowed coverage of private companies.

Caught in Abortion Conflict

This tactic ensured expeditious approval, but acceptance of the Senate version also represents the realization of proponents that they had to accept defeat in a four-year dispute over abortion rights in order to pass the bill.

Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments bars sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs. At issue were regulations under Title IX that require funding recipients to treat abortion and pregnancy as temporary disabilities in health plans and other activities.

Anti-abortion advocates pushed for a provision stating that civil-rights laws do not require recipients of federal funds to perform or pay for abortions. Proponents of the Grove City bill adamantly opposed such a provision, and the dispute stalled the bill for four years.

But when the abortion provision was added to the Senate bill by amendment, proponents decided to push for final passage anyway. Because the two chambers passed identical bills, no House-Senate conference is necessary. The legislation now awaits Presidential action.

In his letter, Mr. Reagan said he was "committed to the effort to eradicate invidious discrimination in American society." But he argued that S 557 "dramatically expands the scope of federal jurisdiction over state and local governments and the private sector, from churches and synagogues to farmers, grocery stores, and businesses of all sizes."

In its decision in Grove City College v. Bell, the Supreme Court ruled that Title IX applies not to entire institutions but only to specific programs receiving federal aid.

The principle has been interpreted by the Administration to apply also to three similar anti-bias statutes: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars racial discrimination in federally funded programs; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled; and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Numerous civil-rights complaints, including many involving4schools and colleges, were dropped or turned away after the ruling.

House Republicans echoed Mr. Reagan in arguing that, without fine-tuning, S 557 would have disastrous, unintended consequences for private businesses, churches, and social organizations.

They also complained that the Democrats were trampling their rights by limiting debate and barring amendments. Some charged that the majority party wanted to send the President an unacceptable bill so that they could use it as a campaign issue. The House voted 252 to 158 to retain the restrictive rule.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett wrote in support of the Republican substitute, offered by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin.

Mr. Bennett said that, prior to Grove City, the department would not have assumed jurisdiction over an entire corporation that operated an education program, and argued that "social-service organizations or businesses that previously felt a mission to support education might decide that the intrusion of the government into every aspect of their operations is not worth bearing."

The Sensenbrenner amendment would have limited rights coverage to the particular division of a private company receiving federal funds. Under S 557, the laws would apply to an entire federally aided company if its principal business is providing education, health care, housing, social services, or recreation.

Support for Exemptions

Mr. Bennett also strongly supported the amendment's expansion of the number of religious institutions eligible for exemptions to provisions of Title IX that offend their religious beliefs.

Under current law, "religiously controlled" schools and colleges can claim exemptions; the amendment, supported by religious schools, would have included all institutions "closely identified" with a religious organization. A similar amendment failed in the Senate.

Lawmakers from both parties urged the Education Department to continue acting expeditiously and with "deference to religious liberty" on exemption requests.

Before the 1980's, the department "took virtually no action" on hundreds of exemption requests, charged Representative James M. Jeffords, Republican of Vermont.

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