Sparring To Continue on Domestic-Policy Bills

By Reagan Walker — September 28, 1989 3 min read

Washington--With less than a month before the Congressional term ends, time constraints and election-year politics have the Congress turning up the heat on several controversial bills that have been sitting on the back burner.

Last week, the Senate engaged in an acrid debate over legislation that would raise the minimum wage, which has not been boosted since 1981.

Senate Democrats want to increase the current $3.35 minimum by $.40 increments over the next three years that would bring it to $4.55 an hour in 1991.

Republicans, however, favor an unspecified increase that is tied to a provision sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. The Hatch proposal would allow employers to pay a subminimum wage equal to 80 percent of the new minimum for the first 90 days that any employee is on the payroll.

The subminimum- wage proposal has drawn stiff criticism from Democrats, labor organizations, and youth advocates, who say it will offer an economic incentive for employers to turn out workers in low-skill jobs every three months.

“The displacement effect of such a proposal would be tremendous,” said Cliff Johnson, the director of youth employment at the Children’s Defense Fund. “It would essentially be a major loophole in the law that would allow millions of workers, young and old, to be paid a subminimum wage.”

To counter the Hatch proposal, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, has proposed expanding a current law that permits employers to pay 85 percent of the minimum wage to full-time students for a designated period of time.

The Senate is expected to cast a final vote on the issue this week.

Parental Leave and Child Care

Debate was also expected in the Senate this week on the parental- and medical-leave bill, which would require businesses over a certain size to allow up to 10 weeks of unpaid leave every two years for parents to care for newborn, newly adopted, or seriously ill children.

The House is expected to take up similar legislation after the Senate acts.

Members of the Congress say Vice President George Bush’s recent support for some form of job security for new parents or those who must care for sick children has helped build momentum for the bill.

Democratic leaders in the Congress have been pushing the legisla8tion as the fall election approaches in part to embarrass Republicans, including Vice Presidential nominee Dan Quayle, who in the past has strongly opposed the measure.

It remains unclear, however, whether the Congress will consider the ''act for better child-care services” in the remaining days of the session.

The $2.5-billion measure has become bogged down by unresolved issues, including a debate over the provision for services provided by church-based centers. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1988.)

As of late last week, action on the bill had not been scheduled in either chamber.

Welfare Bill Stalled Conferees on the welfare-reform bill, which would provide education and job-training for welfare recipients, seemed to be at a standoff late last week over a Senate provision that would require some welfare recipients to work for their benefits.

Such a “workfare” provision has drawn stiff opposition from many House Democrats and the social-services community, but President Reagan has said he will not sign the bill without it.

Other legislative action expected before the end of the term includes:

The omnibus drug bill. The House late last week approved a bill to bar some people convicted of drug offenses from receiving student aid for as long as 10 years. The bill also would create new drug-education programs targeted at young people.

The census-undercount bill. Legislation that would direct the Census Bureau to adjust the results of the next census to take into account persons who may have been overlooked was to be considered before the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee this week.

Proponents of the bill argue that statistics show that minority residents of inner cities and many rural people are missed when the census is taken, with the result that it yields inaccurate counts for some localities. Census counts are used in determining Congressional seats and in many federal funding formulas, including some for education grants.

The “American family act.” The House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, was expected to introduce the “American family act” last Friday. The bill includes a number of proposals that would aid school districts experimenting with school-based management, open enrollment, and character education. (See Education Week, Sept. 21, 1988.)

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 1989 edition of Education Week as Sparring To Continue on Domestic-Policy Bills