Special Report: Congressional Voting Records of the 103rd Congress/1st Session Legislative

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Special Report: Congressional Voting Records of the 103rd Congress/1st Session Legislative Newsletter of the American Civil Liberties Union/Washington Office Volume 16 December 1993 First Session, 103rd Congress Yields Mixed Record on Civil Liberties A new President and an unusually large and diverse freshman class raised expectations for major advancements in civil rights and civil liberties in 1993. These expectations were much higher than a largely nervous and uncertain Congress could fulfill. The first session of the 103rd Congress saw significant progress in expanding civil liberties in certain areas. while also registering significant retreats from civil liberties principles in others. The same Congress that reaffirmed the right of people to exercise freely their religion voted to limit free speech and political participation in two separate bills in the name of "campaign finance reform." Similarly, while there is some shift in the tone of the debate on the perennial issue of crime, with the House breaking with its past practice of passing unwieldy omnibus crime legislation, the Senate passed its own mammoth crime bill that, among other serious civil liberties concerns, calls for the death penalty for more than 50 offenses. There remains a great risk that the House will accept the troublesome Senate framework for addressing crime. The following is a brief summary of some of the major civil liberties issues raised in the first session of the 103rd Congress. Advances The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: The most significant victory for civil liberties was the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA effectively overturns a Supreme Court decision that subjected religious practices to the whim of state and local legislatures or regulatory bodies. RFRA reestablishes the principle that the government may only burden religious practice by the least restrictive means available when advancing a compelling state interest. The Senate defeated an amendment by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) that would have exempted prisons from the protections of RFRA before it finally approved the bill. The ACLU Washington Office played a key role in the original effort to introduce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and in the leadership of the broad-based coalition that worked tirelessly for its passage. The struggle for religious liberty before the Congress is not over; still pending is the Native American Religious Freedom Act. The Family and Medical Leave Act: The signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act by President Clinton was another landmark for civil liberties. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for guaranteed job protection for up to 12 weeks per year for childbirth, adoption or the serious illness of an employee or immediate family member. The ACLU was an early supporter of the FMLA because the legislation provides for a gender neutral approach to the problem of leave policies which fail to recognize the competing demands of work and family. The FMLA is an important step toward ensuring equal employment opportunity to women and people with disabilities who are disproportionately affected by inadequate and oftentimes discriminatory leave policies. The National Voter Registration Act: President Clinton also signed the National Voter Registration Act ("Motor Voter") into law. This legislation would allow voters to register to vote by mail, when applying for a drivers license and at state and federal agencies. "Motor Voter" is a necessary step in the continuing struggle to assure that the right to vote is a practical reality for most Americans. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act: Both the House and Senate passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act (FACE) that prohibits the use of force, or threat of force or physical obstruction with intent to injure. intimidate or interfere with someone because that person is or has been obtaining or providing abortion related services. The Act provides for criminal penalties and a private civil cause of action. FACE provides important protections to women and their physicians when they seek to exercise the constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. The House and Senate have yet to work out differences between the two bills. The ACLU was instrumental in assuring that the legislation does not hinder constitutionally protected First Amendment activities by anti-abortion protesters. The ACLU has played and will continue to play a major role in this effort to protect the right of women to exercise choice while also protecting First Amendment rights. Other victories in the arena of reproductive rights include the restoration of the right of the District of Columbia to use its own revenues to pay for medicaid abortions. In addition, efforts to exclude abortions from the range of services covered under health insurance plans for federal employees were defeated on procedural grounds. Federal funding for abortion services for women in the federal prison system was also restored. While we celebrated these victories, however, the Congress moved in other areas to cut back on civil liberties. Setbacks Campaign Finance Reform: High on the agenda of the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate is legislation that is designed to "reform" campaign financing. While the ACLU is sympathetic to concerns that have been raised about abuses in the political process and supports the idea of public financing, we oppose efforts by the government to suppress the speech of some in order to enhance the voices of others. The ACLU opposed the campaign finance reform proposals adopted by the House and Senate because they unconstitutionally burden free speech and dampen political participation, particularly from non-traditional and less well- financed sources. The House and Senate are expected to go to conference on their respective measures. The ACLU will continue to raise its concerns, but we are not optimistic that we will prevail. Crime Legislation: Before adjourning in November, both the House and Senate acted on crime legislation. The House passed a series of measures including funding to increase the number of police, drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration such as boot camps. The Senate passed an omnibus bill which, in addition to the measures adopted by the House, contained many provisions which raise very serious civil liberties concerns. The Senate bill would extend the death penalty to more than 50 offenses; require that certain 13-year-olds be tried as adults; increase the number of mandatory minimum sentences and significantly restrict the rights of non-citizens regardless of their legal status in the United States. Despite some increase in funding for preventive measures, the overall tilt and focus of the Senate bill is on punishment at the expense of more proactive measures. One glimmer of hope in the crime debate has been the emerging influence of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. Concerns expressed by the members of those caucuses regarding the House approach to omnibus crime legislation and the introduction of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Reform Act (H.R. 3315) by Representative Craig Washington (D-TX) and others, persuaded Judiciary Committee chairman Jack Brooks (D-TX) to take a more measured and deliberate approach to crafting crime legislation. H.R. 3315 has the potential to shift the debate on crime from the politicized rhetoric of the past twelve years to a more reasoned approach which will evaluate anti-crime proposals on the basis of what works and what is fair rather than simply on the basis of what appears to be "tough." Civil Rights for Gays and Lesbians: Much like the crime issue, the debate surrounding civil rights for gays and lesbians is highly emotional and politically charged. In the context of approving appropriations for the District of Columbia budget, the House voted to prevent the District government from implementing newly passed legislation which would allow unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to qualify for D.C. government employees' health care benefits. While the national debate on lifting the ban on gays and lesbians in the military produced some new champions for nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, both the House and Senate finally voted to support the ban. The ACLU played a major role in finding those new champions and is continuing to work with them. Unfinished Business Despite our efforts to restore federal funding for abortions for poor women, both the House and the Senate failed to lift that ban, agreeing only that federal funds could be used to provide abortions in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman. In the national security arena, the Senate continued to vote its belief that the United States should include the budget for intelligence operations in the public budget. The House, however, rejected an amendment that would have required public disclosure of the intelligence budget. The Administration, meanwhile, is drafting a new executive order on classification and is reviewing security practices in the defense and intelligence committees. Congress also passed a law requiring the Defense Department to issue new regulations establishing due process procedures for DOD civilian employees who lose their security clearances. A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee accepted the Free Trade in Ideas Act, which would protect the exchange of information and travel to and from the United States. but agreed to withdraw it pending a policy review by the State Department. Congress has also begun considering a number of immigration-related bills that would restrict the granting of asylum as well as restricting the rights of immigrants in this country. These bills are likely to receive greater consideration in the second session as some members of Congress try to make immigration an election-year issue. In a category of its own was the vote on H.R. 51, the bill to admit the District of Columbia as the 51st state in the Union. Largely through the efforts of the ACLU and a committed coalition of organizations including the National Rainbow Coalition, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP and the AFL-CIO, residents of the District of Columbia made important progress in their quest for self-determination. Although the measure failed on the House floor, the vote of 153 to 277 lays the groundwork for a concerted grassroots effort and sets the stage for future action in the Senate. Conclusion On many of these issues the key elements missing have been bold and clear leadership and the political will necessary to protect civil liberties. One lesson in the first session of the 103rd Congress is that such leadership can and does change the landscape of the debate -- even with issues as difficult and politically charged as crime. While we are far from out of the political woods in that debate, an important first step has been taken. As is often the case, the leadership of one or even a handful of members can shift the tone of the debate and reap significant benefits for civil liberties. The job of the ACLU is then to provide the information and legal analysis that is needed to illuminate the civil liberties concerns, and to provide the political advice and agitation to make change possible. Each of the votes listed in this issue of Civil Liberties Alert is an important vote for or against civil liberties. We are indebted to those members who have provided the leadership and the votes which reflect ACLU positions on these key issues. We are also indebted to those ACLU affiliates, members and activists who take time to write letters and to make visits to members of Congress. We will continue to challenge, to chide and to prod members of Congress to place a greater emphasis on the civil liberties concerns in the next session of Congress. It is our hope that the scorecard for the second session of the 103rd Congress will show a greater willingness to expand and protect our rights. We can do that only with your continued support and activism. Published by the American Civil Liberties Union, Washington Office 122 Maryland Avenue, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002 Laura Murphy Lee, Director Diann Rust-Tierney, Chief Legislative Counsel/Associate Director Susan Hansen, Publications Manager National Headquarters: 132 West 43rd Street New York, N.Y. 10036 Nadine Strossen, President Kenneth B. Clark, Chair, National Advisory Council Ira Glasser, Executive Director Civil Liberties Alert is available in print on request to all who actively participate in legislative lobbying. ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher://aclu.org:6601 | American Civil Liberties Union National Office ftp://aclu.org | mailto:infoaclu@aclu.org | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank