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House Backs Service Bill With Loan Forgiveness

The House last week passed a national-service bill after narrowly sustaining provisions that would forgive the student loans of volunteers.

HR 4330, approved by voice vote, would fund school-based community-service programs, create opportunities for adults to volunteer in schools, and establish an American Conservation Corps and a Youth Service Corps.

By a vote of 212 to 200, House members rejected an amendment offered by Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the Education and Labor Committee's ranking Republican, that would have allowed participants in volunteer programs to defer payments on student loans but not to have the debts forgiven. The Bush Administration has opposed compensation for volunteers.

Several other amendments were adopted by voice vote, including a provision to require participants in service programs to submit to random drug testing.

The Senate has already passed similar legislation.

The House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment last week approved legislation to restrict federal health funds to states that did not prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors.

Under the bill as introduced, states would have been required to adopt a legislative ban in order to receive federal drug- and alcohol-abuse money. The amended version would curb growth in aid to states that did not, but would not allow those states' funding levels to drop below 1989 levels.

The bill also would require stronger warning labels on cigarettes and prohibit advertisements for tobacco products within 750 feet of a school.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings late last week on the nomination of David H. Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Panel members quizzed Mr. Souter, a federal appellate-court judge from New Hampshire, on a broad range of issues, including the scope of Constitutional privacy protection, the circumstances under which a court should reverse its previous opinions, and the validity of affirmative action.

Hearings were to continue into this week. Most observers expect that the nominee will be confirmed with little opposition.

At least 71 people have been killed with guns at schools nationwide during the last four academic years, according to a survey released at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Crime.

The hearing focused on a bill, HR 3757, that would make it a federal crime to bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a public elementary or secondary school. Violators would face up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines, with stronger penalties for anyone who fired a gun in a school zone.

"This measure builds on the success of the drug-free school zones," said Joel Packer, a legislative specialist for the National Education Association, at the Sept. 6 hearing on the bill. The bill has been endorsed by numerous national education groups.

A companion measure was included in an omnibus crime bill, S 1970, passed by the Senate in July.

The survey, conducted by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, also found 242 instances in the past four years in which individuals were taken hostage at gunpoint at school.

A 1.1 percent across-the-board cut assessed in fiscal 1990 had a minimal impact on Education Department programs, according to a General Accounting Office report.

The $266.1-million sequester, which came from a $24.5-billion appropriation for the department as part of an overall budget agreement, affected 14 of the agency's 19 accounting categories. Even after the cut, however, the department's funding was 5.1 percent more than in fiscal 1989, the report says.

Hardest hit by the cuts, the gao found, were the office for civil rights, which lost $606,000, and the program-administration account that funds the department's salaries and expenses, which lost $3.6 million.

Ocr reported staff and budget shortages on top of the sequester, the report indicates, at a time when legislation had already caused an increase in the number of discrimination complaints. And program administration, which covers travel expenses and salaries, had to absorb across-the-board pay raises.

Other programs were forced to surrender more money, including student aid, which lost $84 million, and Chapter 1, which lost $66 million. But the report suggests that in many cases program administrators were able to cope with the cuts because funds were not released until several months after the sequester, thus allowing time for cost-saving adjustments.

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