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House, Senate Approve Unfunded-Mandate Bills

Republican lawmakers claimed another victory last week when the House passed a bill to restrict unfunded federal mandates to states on a 360-to-74 vote. The Senate passed a similar version by an 86-to-10 vote late last month.

The chambers must now work out differences in their bills before sending the legislation to President Clinton, who has said he favors mandate relief.

Education groups have split over the desirability of such a law. (See Education, Jan. 18, 1995.)

The measure would not stop Congress from sending unfunded mandates to states. It would, however, make lawmakers identify and then vote on any law that would cost states more than $50 million. The law would not be retroactive, and it would exempt civil-rights and disabilities laws.

Also last week, the Senate debated a proposed constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget by 2002. A House version of the bill was passed Jan. 26 by a 300-to-132 vote.

Exact versions of the amendment must be passed by a two-thirds majority of both chambers and then by at least 38 state legislatures.

Payments Under Fire

Members of a federal commission charged with reviewing a program designed to help poor families with disabled children pay their bills were scheduled to start developing an agenda late last week.

The Commission on Childhood Disability will focus on the Supplemental Security Income program, which has come under fire in the last year after reports of alleged fraud and abuse. Critics have alleged that some parents were "coaching" their children to misbehave in school, score poorly on tests, fail classes, and fake symptoms of various behavioral disabilities to qualify for benefits. (See Education Week, June 1, 1994.)

Roughly 900,000 children receive $4.5 billion in S.S.I. payments.

The new Congress has held hearings on the issue and is expected to propose changes in the program as lawmakers take on the larger issue of welfare reform.

Wheelchair on Buses

A federal appeals court in has held that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not obliged to set crash-test standards for wheelchairs used on school buses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held last month that the agency, in setting standards for the devices used to hold wheelchairs and their passengers in place on school buses, acted properly in sidestepping the question of how well the wheelchairs themselves should withstand a bus collision.

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