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House Passes Crime-Prevention Programs for Youths

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Washington

The House last week passed an omnibus crime bill that would authorize $6.9 billion for youth-related prevention programs as well as stiffen penalties for repeat offenders and increase authorized funding for prison construction.

The 285-to-141 vote came after the House leadership refused to allow Republicans to offer amendments to cut or eliminate the prevention programs.

The stage is now set for a conference with senators, who passed a companion bill in November. For procedural reasons, the House changed the number of its bill from HR 4092 to HR 3355 to match the Senate's version.

"The leadership felt they didn't want to allow the amendments to cut prevention to go to the floor,'' a House Rules Committee aide said.

The aide said the panel was deluged with mail from mayors, Congressional Black Caucus members, and Administration officials urging rejection of the amendments, which some observers say might have passed on the House floor.

"If prevention provisions were gutted, many Democratic members said they would have reconsidered voting for the bill,'' the aide said. "It was just a matter of numbers.''

The rules panel did allow Republicans to offer a series of amendments aimed at increasing criminal penalties, and G.O.P. leaders reluctantly agreed to postpone debate on prevention until the House votes on the eventual product of the House-Senate conference, which is to start later this month.

Additional Programs

Title X of the House bill, which contains most of the youth initiatives, authorizes funds for states, schools, and communities to develop crime-prevention, peer-counseling, and anti-gang programs. The Senate bill includes no such provisions. (See Education Week, March 30, 1994).

In floor debate last week, House Democrats added several more youth-related programs to the bill.

One such provision, passed by a vote of 402 to 22 as part of an en bloc amendment, would create a community-based "justice grant program.'' The measure, sponsored by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2nd, D-Mass., would authorize $100 million over five years to help schools, police, and social-service agencies to accelerate the prosecution of young violent offenders.

Another amendment, which passed on a 250-to-174 vote, would establish a police corps program. The initiative, sponsored by Rep. Dave McCurdy, D-Okla., would give young people college aid in exchange for a year of police work.

House members debated 68 amendments over two weeks and passed 58 of them. The bill now authorizes a total of $31 billion in new spending, nearly double the $15.9 billion the Judiciary Committee approved earlier this month.

Even though the House bill's punitive provisions now more closely resemble the Senate version, Republicans say the prevention sections render the bill "weak.''

"Republican leaders say this bill is toothless,'' said Andi Dillin, a spokeswoman for Rep. Bill McCollom, R-Fla., a member of the Judiciary Committee who is a leading Republican voice on crime issues.

"We are not against prevention,'' she added. "We just think we have a more immediate crisis, and we need to keep people in jail. We are going to fight this in conference.''

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