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Senate Democrats and Republicans last week introduced separate proposals for campaign-finance reform. Both plans would ban contributions by the political-action committees of unions and other entities.

S 3, the Democrats' bill, and S 6, the Republicans' proposal, were named as high priorities by the leaders of each party.

Last year, Democrats won approval of campaign-finance-reform bills in the House and Senate on party-line votes.

But the effort died when proponents failed to reconcile the two very different bills.

S 3 is similar to the bill passed by the Senate last year. It would provide limited public financing for candidates abiding by voluntary spending limits, require broadcasters to provide low-cost air time, outlaw pac contributions, and restrict political parties' use of so-called "soft money."

Soft money includes funds spent to inform members of a group's political positions, to subsidize operating expenditures of an affiliated pac, and to run voter-registration and get-out-the-vote drives.

The Democrats' bill would not restrict the use of soft money by unions and other groups, but would more tightly regulate "independent expenditures" made on behalf of candidates.

S 6 does not call for a limit on overall spending, but would totally ban the use of soft money, which is not covered by current spending and reporting limits.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to review lower-court rulings in cases involving a protest of allegedly pornographic public-school aids-education materials and the rights of the handicapped.

The first case, Kennedy v. County of Los Angeles (Case No. 90-784) involved a former member of the Los Angeles County Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. At a 1987 commission meeting, she asserted that aids-education materials used in the Los Angeles public schools were obscene and introduced an4emergency resolution to demand that no further distribution be permitted. She was subsequently dismissed from her post by the county supervisor who had appointed her.

State courts dismissed the commissioner's claim that her dismissal violated her constitutional rights.

The High Court also refused to review lower courts' decisions not to award certain attorney fees and other payments in a case involving the Education of the Handicapped Act.

The case, Muth v. Central Bucks School District (No. 90-6359), stemmed from a parent's attempt to obtain compensation for his handicapped son's private-school tuition. In an earlier phase of the case, the High Court ruled that the parent could sue local education officials but not state officials.

A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that also awarded certain legal fees to the parent.

Congressional Democrats last week promised quick action on a civil-rights bill and legislation providing family leave for employees, proposals that were vetoed by President Bush last year.

The family-leave bill, reintroduced as HR 2 and S 5, would require major employers to give workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with "family crises" such as the birth of a child or a serious illness.

It also includes special rules for school districts demanded last year by the National School Boards Association. The rules allow districts to require teachers to extend their leave if they would be returning at the end of a school year. In addition, it gives districts more leeway than other employers would have in cases where the reason for a leave is "foreseeable" and when determining what is an "equivalent" position for a returning teacher.

The civil-rights bill, reintroduced as HR 1, would also affect schools and other employers, by reversing several U.S. Supreme Court decisions and making it easier for workers to bring job-discrimination charges against their employers.

The most controversial provision, which the Bush Administration argued would lead to hiring quotas, would require employers to bear the burden of defending employment practices once an employee establishes that the practices have a negative impact on minorities or women.

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