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Senate Overrides Bush Veto of Family-Leave Bill

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WASHINGTON--The Senate last week voted to override President Bush's veto of a measure that would require large firms to offer workers unpaid leave to care for newborn children or ill family members.

The vote was 68 to 31, one vote above the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

The House was expected to act on the veto this week. When it approved the "family and medical leave act'' earlier this month, the vote was 241 to 161, far short of a two-thirds majority. (See Education Week, Sept. 16, 1992.)

"Today the Senate stood up for the workers to whom President Bush turned a cold shoulder,'' Judith L. Lichtman, the president of the Women's Legal Defense Fund and chairwoman of a coalition of groups supporting the measure, said following the Senate vote.

The President's backers, on the other hand, argue that by scheduling the vote so late in the session, Democrats in Congress demonstrated that they were less concerned about the leave issue than they were in provoking Mr. Bush to veto a popular bill in the midst of the fall election campaign.

The measure, S 5, would require firms with more than 50 workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave, with continued health coverage, for the birth or adoption of a child or serious illness of the worker or an immediate family member.

It includes provisions giving school districts some leeway in setting teachers' leave conditions to avoid classroom disruptions. The bill has drawn strong support from the nation's two teachers' unions.

In his veto message Sept. 22, Mr. Bush said he is "strongly committed to policies that foster a complementary relationship between work and family.'' But, he argued, "if these policies are to meet the diverse needs of our nation, they must be carefully, flexibly, and sensitively crafted at the workplace by employers and employees, and not in Washington, D.C., through government mandates imposed by legislation such as S 5.''

Earlier this month Mr. Bush offered a counterproposal that would provide up to $1,200 in refundable tax credits to businesses with fewer than 500 employees who grant up to 12 weeks of family leave. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1992.)

Mr. Bush's veto drew fire from Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the Democratic Presidential candidate, and from Congressional Democrats who cast the issue as a litmus test for supporting the kinds of "family values'' championed by Republicans.

"The President is out of touch with what average American families go through all the time'' when a child is born or there is a family medical emergency, said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., the bill's chief Senate sponsor. "The American people deserve what every other developed country in the world has--a policy that puts value on the family.''

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