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This monthly update reports the status of Key education-related bills as of April 5, 1996.

Stopgap Spending Authority

HJ Res 170

Law keeps the Department of Education and other agencies whose fiscal 1996 appropriations bills have been stalled or vetoed running through April 24 at reduced funding levels. (See story, page 24, and Education Week, April 3, 1996.)

House and Senate passed the bill March 29, and President Clinton signed it the same day.

Next: Congress is expected to enact a permanent appropriations bill before the current temporary funding expires.

Education Appropriations, Fiscal 1996; D.C. School Reform

HR 3019

In negotiations on an omnibus bill that would fund several agencies without appropriations for fiscal 1996, House and Senate conferees have tentatively agreed to set funding for discretionary Education Department programs at $24.1 billion, slightly less than was spent in fiscal 1995. The bill also includes the District of Columbia's budget, which had been stalled by a controversial proposal to set aside $5 million for "scholarships" to help low-income students in the city pay tuition at the public or private school of their choice, subject to the approval of the City Council. Conferees stripped the voucher provision from the bill. They retained a package of school reforms, including charter schools and a standards-setting process, but voucher proponents refused to provide funding for the programs if the choice program were not included. (See story, page 24, and Education Week, April 3, 1996.)

House passed its version of the bill March 7. Senate bill passed March 19. Conference began March 21.

Next: Conference will continue when Congress returns from a two-week recess on April 15. Conferees appear to be close to a final agreement and are striving to draft a bill President Clinton will sign.

Health Care

HR 3103, S 1028

Both the House and Senate bills would require insurers to sell health coverage to most individuals and limit the period for which an insurer can refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions. House bill also includes controversial provisions that would allow individuals to pay medical costs from "medical savings accounts," and limit awards in medical - malpractice cases.

House passed HR 3103 on March 28. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved S 1028 on Aug. 2.

Next: Floor action in the Senate is expected later this month.

Immigration

HR 2202, S 1394, S 269

The original House bill sought to reduce both illegal and legal immigration, but provisions limiting legal immigration were deleted. Senators split provisions on legal and illegal immigration into two bills. The bills would restrict legal and illegal immigrants' eligibility for some public benefits, and the House bill contains a provision that would allow states to deny undocumented children free access to K-12 public education. (See Education Week, March 27, 1996, and Sept. 20, 1995.)

House passed HR 2202 on March 21. Senate Judiciary Committee approved S 269 on March 21 and S 1394 on March 28.

Next: Floor action in the Senate is expected later this month.

Line-Item Veto

S 4

Compromise drafted by House and Senate negotiators would give the president the authority to veto individual spending items, narrow tax breaks, and new entitlement spending without rejecting an entire bill. It would not go into effect until 1997.

Conference agreement was approved by the House March 27 and the Senate March 28.

Next: President Clinton has said he will sign the bill.

Parental Rights

HR 1271, HR 1946, S 984

HR 1271 would require federal agencies to obtain parental approval before administering certain surveys to students. HR 1946 and S 984 would bar government and school officials from interfering with "the upbringing of a child" unless a "compelling governmental interest" was involved. (See Education Week, May 24, 1995.)

HR 1271 was approved by the House on April 4. Last fall, hearings were held in the House on HR 1946 and in the Senate on the broader topic of parental rights.

Next: More House and Senate hearings are expected.

Religious Liberty

HJ Res 121, HJ Res 127

Both bills would amend the U.S. Constitution in an effort to provide greater protection for religious expression. HJ Res 127 would specifically protect student-sponsored prayer in public schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

HJ Res 121 was introduced Nov. 15 and HJ Res 127 on Nov. 28.

Next: The House Judiciary Committee plans to debate the proposed amendments later in the year.

Special Education

S 1578

Senate bill and a draft circulated by House aides would: make it easier for school officials to reassign or expel disruptive disabled students; encourage mediation in disputes between schools and parents; require schools to set high standards for disabled students; and consolidate some programs. (See Education Week, March 27, 1996, and Nov. 29, 1995.)

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee unanimously approved S 1578 on March 21.

Next: Several difficult issues are expected to resurface when the full Senate takes up reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is unclear when the House will act.

Special Education

HR 1617, S 143

House bill would replace more than 100 vocational-education, adult-education, and job-training programs with block grants for youth programs, adult literacy, and adult job training. Senate bill would create a single block grant, replacing about 90 programs. (See Education Week, Oct. 18, 1995, and Jan. 31, 1996.)

House bill passed Sept. 19. Senate bill passed Oct. 11.

Next: A House-Senate conference has been held up by differences over the programs' structure, the ongoing budget battle that has dominated the congressional schedule, and opposition from conservative groups opposed to provisions that would set standards for vocational programs.

Welfare Reform

HR 4

HR 4 would end guaranteed coverage and turn welfare and Medicaid funding over to the states in block grants. States could offer benefits for children born to welfare recipients only by passing legislation. They would have the option of denying benefits to unwed teenage parents. The bill would also tighten eligibility rules for the Supplemental Security Income program for disabled children. It also includes a compromise that would allow seven states to run their school-meals programs under block grants. Also on the table are proposals from the National Governors' Association, which would revamp welfare and Medicaid along the lines of HR 4, but would give states both more flexibility and more funding safeguards. (See story, page 22, and Education Week, March 20, 1996.)

House passed HR 4 Dec. 21, and the Senate followed suit a day later. President Clinton vetoed the bill on Jan. 9.

Next: Republican leaders are debating whether to try to draft a welfare-reform bill that President Clinton will sign, pass a more confrontational bill and try to use a presidential veto as a campaign issue in the November elections, or drop the issue. Lawmakers are also discussing how much of the governors' plan to incorporate into their legislation.

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