If early House action on welfare legislation last month is any indication, President Bush will not be enjoying the same kind of bipartisan support for that major domestic priority as he did for most of his education proposals.
House members also sparred over abortion legislation, approved legislation to reauthorize child abuse programs, approved a new Internet domain for children and approved life sentences for some repeat child sex offenders.
An Education and the Workforce subcommittee and a Ways and Means subcommittee took the first formal steps toward reauthorizing the 1996 law (PL 104-193) that overhauled the nation’s welfare law. The law expires Sept. 30.
Both panels approved nearly identical legislation along party lines April 18 (HR 4092 and HR 4090, respectively). Both bills would require more welfare recipients to work, and to work longer. Both would require welfare recipients to work 40 hours a week, and states to have 70 percent of their welfare recipients employed by 2007.
The bills would modify guidelines for the types of work and activities that meet the job requirements, and would discontinue waivers that allow states to spend federal welfare aid on related needs like child care, transportation and drug treatment.
Current law requires welfare recipients to work 30 hours a week, and requires only 50 percent of recipients to be employed.
The proposed changes are patterned after a proposal Bush pitched to Congress in February.
Democrats said the proposals lean too heavily on work requirements and do not provide enough resources for job training and childcare. They also said the legislation could lead states to create unnecessary jobs to meet the requirements.
The legislation “seems more focused on requiring states to put welfare recipients into make-work programs, rather than wage-paying employment,” Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), top Democrat on the Ways and Means subcommittee, said in a statement prior to the panel’s action.
The two full committees were expected to act on the bills soon. The bills will be merged before the House acts, most likely this month.
In other action:
• While the Senate will also assuredly act on welfare legislation, it is not expected to consider House-passed legislation (HR 476) that would prohibit transporting female minors across state lines for an abortion to avoid parental consent laws in some states.
Violators could face a $100,000 fine or one year in jail.
Democrats sought to amend the bill to exempt adult siblings, a grandparent, or a minister, rabbi, pastor, priest or other religious leader of the minor. That amendment failed 173-246.
At least 23 states have laws requiring minors to get parental consent prior to having abortions. The House has twice passed similar legislation, but the Senate has not followed suit. The House passed the bill 260-161 last month.
• The House may soon take up legislation (HR 3839) that would reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the $285 million measure in March to help abused and neglected children.
In addition to funding several federal programs (such as child abuse prevention and treatment, and family resource and support), the legislation emphasizes that family service workers should communicate better with communities and families as they work. It also promotes educating the public about the role of family services and the proper reporting of suspected abuse (in an effort to reduce the number of false and malicious reports).
The bill would authorize $285 million annually from fiscal 2003 through 2007: $120 million for the general program (Title I); $80 million for community based family resource and support grants (Title II); $40 million for adoption opportunities, and $45 million for programs for abandoned infants.
• The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation (HR 3833) by voice vote that would provide a place on the Internet free from pornography and other content deemed inappropriate for children. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), would create the Web address suffix “.kids.us” for sites suitable for minors.
The bill also would direct the U.S. comptroller to review the registry of the new domain annually to ensure compliance. The legislation was forwarded to the House.
• The House passed legislation (HR 2146) by 382-34 that would impose life sentences on adults convicted of repeated sex offenses against children. The sentence would be imposed after a federal conviction of an individual with prior convictions for sex offenses against a minor.
The bill, the Two Strikes and You’re Out Child Protection Act, was sponsored by Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.), an ally of Marc Klaas, president of the Klaas Kids Foundation. Klaas’ 12-year-old daughter Polly was murdered in 1993 by a child sex offender who had been recently released from prison.
The bill is awaiting action in the Senate.