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The Helm's Amendment Passed: Schools Will NOW be Punished for Enforcing Their Anti-discrimination Policies

6/14/01 2:15pm The US Senate voted 52 to 48 to pass the Helms' amendment that would hold back federal funding from any school district that refuses the use of school by the Boy Scouts of American. This same bill was passed by the House of

Thursday June 14 3:18 PM ET
Boy Scout Education Amendment Passes
By GREG TOPPO, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate voted narrowly Thursday to withhold federal funds from school districts that deny use of their facilities to the Boy Scouts because of the organization's exclusion of homosexuals.

Within minutes of the 51-49 vote, opponents scrambled to reverse the outcome, but their prospects were uncertain.

The fast-paced developments came on an amendment by Sen. Jesse Helms (news - bio - voting record), R-N.C., to President Bush (news - web sites)'s education legislation. Democrats said they were hoping for final passage of the package by day's end - regardless of the outcome of the controversy triggered by a Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld a national Boy Scouts policy banning gay members and leaders.

The House approved an amendment last month similar to Helms'.

Michael Resnick, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, said the measure means school districts could lose the right to decide who uses their facilities.

``Now we have a piece of legislation in which the Congress is dictating to school districts and school principals all across the United States which groups should have access to their campus,'' he said. ``That should be a locally determined decision. This is congressional micromanagement at its worst.''

Helms said his amendment was meant to combat ``the organized lesbians and homosexuals in this country of ours.'' Democrats angrily denounced it, saying it would bind the hands of school boards trying to juggle access and scout sponsorship with their states' anti-discrimination laws.

``Think of the situation we are creating here,'' said Sen. Richard Durbin (news - bio - voting record), D-Ill. ``Imagine sitting on a school board, with no pay, under these circumstances. ... I have to tell you: As I consider this amendment, it is a complete disaster.''

The vote came after several hours of debate over the Boy Scouts' mission and history, complete with senators on both sides of the aisle fondly recalling their scouting days. Several Republicans stood to read or recite the Boy Scout oath.

``I have never been prouder in my entire political life than I am to stand here today with Senator Jesse Helms and support this amendment,'' said Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H.

Democrats spoke in bitter opposition to the amendment, saying it was redundant in light of the Supreme Court's access ruling.

``I believe this amendment is unnecessarily gratuitous,'' said Sen. Barbara Boxer (news - bio - voting record), D-Calif. ``It's hurtful to a group of people - it divides us again in this country.''

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said the amendment would force school districts to make ``a terrible choice.''

``They could either disregard their own conscience or they could follow their conscience and lose millions of dollars that their schools and their children need,'' he said. ``We believe in principled compromise, but we cannot compromise on the fundamental issues of civil rights.''

According to Boy Scouts of America Web site, about 3.4 million children were enrolled as Boy Scouts in 2000, a 1.2 percent drop from 1999.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate tentatively refused to require schools to discipline special education students in the same fashion as other pupils, voting 50-50.

Shortly after the vote, Senate leaders agreed to reconsider the issue later in the day. Republicans were discussing whether to ask Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) to come to the Capitol to break a tie if needed on a second vote.

At issue is an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions (news - bio - voting record), R-Ala., that would require schools and school districts to implement uniform discipline policies for all children, regardless of whether they are disabled or receiving federal special educational funds. Sessions and other Republicans complained that in some cases, disabled students aren't punished
as severely as others.

``If a child in a wheelchair sells dope, should they be treated any differently than any other child who sells dope?'' he asked.

Democrats said the measure would strip valuable protections from some disabled students.

``We're not going to march backward,'' said Sen. Edward Kennedy (news - bio - voting record), D-Mass. ``This is a major, major retreat.''

The Senate earlier Thursday rejected an amendment by Sen Tom Harkin (news - bio - voting record), D-Iowa, that would have let schools take the child's disability into account when determining punishment - if, for instance, a deaf child misbehaved because he or she couldn't understand a lesson in class.

Bush has placed education atop his legislative agenda, but Democrats say they will insist on more money for education than Bush has recommended.

The Senate measure, driven by Democrats' spending proposals, calls for roughly $15 billion more than Bush proposed for comparable programs in 2002.

``It is frightening how much money has been added in terms of authorizations,'' said Sen. Bill Frist (news - bio - voting record), R-Tenn.

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