Congress Finishes Work on Drug and Tax Bills
Washington--Before coming to the exhausted end of its 1988 session in the early-morning hours of Oct. 22, the Congress approved omnibus anti-drug legislation that would increase funding under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, toughen penalties for drug crimes involving children, and allow courts to bar drug offenders from receiving student aid.
The Congress also gave final approval to tax legislation providing breaks for educators and parents seeking to save money for their children's college tuition.
President Reagan is expected to sign both measures.
The drug bill, HR 5210, does not restrict federal aid as sharply as did some earlier anti-drug proposals, which would have automatically cut off federal assistance, including student aid, to convicted drug offenders.
The final language gives judges discretionary authority to cut off aid to first-time drug-possession offenders for one year, and up to five years for those convicted of subsequent offenses. The sanctions could be imposed instead of or in addition to mandatory drug treatment, drug-testing programs, or community service.
Offenders convicted for a third time of selling drugs would automatically lose benefits permanently. A judge could exclude first-offenders from benefits for five years, and second-offenders for 10 years.
The final bill, approved by voice vote in the Senate and by a vote of 346 to 11 in the House, includes a provision lifting aid suspensions for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs or make a "good-faith effort" to get into such a program.
Other provisions of the drug bill would:
Increase penalties for illegal distribution of anabolic steroids and require the General Accounting Office to study the extent of steroid use by high-school and college students.
Increase the annual funding ceiling for the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act from $250 million to $350 million, and authorize setting aside some of the money for teacher training, provided that at least $230 million is appropriated for the entire program.
Provide a $100-million supplemental appropriation for the drug-free schools program, in addition to the $247 million allotted the Education Department in the regular 1989 spending bill.
Require the secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services to develop drug-education curricula for early-childhood programs.
Allow public and nonprofit organizations to receive grants under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act for community-based projects providing drug-abuse education and preventive services to youths during the summer.
Create grant programs within hhs, authorized at $15 million each, for projects combatting youth gangs, particularly drug crimes committed by gangs, and preventing drug abuse by homeless and runaway youths.
Establish a National Commission on Drug-Free Schools, which would make recommendations on guidelines to identify drug\free schools, penalties for students caught using drugs, and the effectiveness of suspending offenders' eligibility for student loans as a deterrent to drug use.
Require all federal-aid recipients to establish policies forbidding drugs in the workplace and punish employees who violate the policies.
Increase penalties for involving children in drug sales, buying drugs from children, or possessing drugs, with the intent to distribute them, within 1,000 feet of a schoolyard or 100 feet of a playground, youth center, swimming pool, or video arcade.
Education Tax Breaks
The wide-ranging tax bill, approved by voice votes in both chambers, contains a provision granting families with annual incomes of less than $60,000 an exemption on interest earned by investments in U.S. Savings Bonds, if the money is to be used for college expenses. Families with incomes between $60,000 and $80,000 a year would get smaller breaks, while those with higher incomes would receive none.
The bill, HR 4333, also delays for one year implementation of two provisions of the 1986 tax-reform law of concern to educators.
One provision, barring discrimination in employee benefits between high- and low-paid workers, could affect the benefit plans of some educational administrators.
Another section of HR 4333 would extend through this year a tax exemption for education expenses paid by employers, which expired at the end of 1987. The final language excludes graduate-level courses from the one-year extension, except for teaching assistants.
The tax bill would also prevent the Internal Revenue Service from taxing such "non-elective" deferred compensation as unused sick leave and vacation time, and eliminate a provision of the 1986 law that had the effect of requiring retired teachers in Pennsylvania, Washington, and Hawaii to pay taxes twice on their pension funds.
Other legislation passed in the waning hours of the 100th Congress and awaiting action by the President includes bills to make changes in the 1986 Education for all Handicapped Children Amendments, reauthorize the National Science Foundation, restrict commercials on children's television, and extend the Stewart B. McKinney homeless-assistance act, which includes a grant program aiding the education of homeless children.