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House Begins Consideration of Commerce-Justice-State Spending Bill

On June 22 and 23, the House debated the FY2001 Commerce, Justice, State, and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R. 4690). A vote on final passage is expected on June 26.

During House consideration on June 22, the House voted to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) by $134 million, bringing total funding for FY2001 to $275 million. The amendment was offset by reductions in several programs.

Last year the program received $305 million. For the past six years, the bill emerging from the House Appropriations Committee has funded LSC at $141 million. The amendment, offered by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), was adopted by voice vote.

Noting that “women and children are among the vulnerable who, without assistance, often find themselves in abusive situations that they cannot control,” Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) discussed the importance of LSC. “The work of Legal Services on behalf of families and children touches at the very heart of what we value in this country, decent housing, adequate health care, food and a safe environment,” she said.

The House also approved, by voice vote, an amendment that would increase funding for Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) and the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). Offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the amendment would increase funding for WBCs to $13 million, its authorized amount. Funding for the NWBC would be increased to $1 million, also its authorized amount. The amendment provided an offset of $4.5 million from the General Services Administration.

As approved by committee, WBCs would have received $8.9 million, a slight decrease from the $9 million appropriated last year. The NWBC would have received a reduction in funding from $600,000 in FY2000 to $595,000 in FY2001.

Noting the importance of women-owned businesses, Rep. McGovern said, “According to the results of the 2000 Avon Global Women’s Survey that polled 30,000 women from 33 countries, the top three factors that women across the world feel would improve their lives in the new millenium are, one, financial independence; two, equal job opportunities; and three, the ability to start one’s own business….The Women’s Business Centers program and the National Women’s Business Council help push the doors open.”

Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY) agreed, saying, “Women’s Business Centers play a major role in empowering women entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to succeed in their business.”

The House defeated an amendment that would have repealed the current prohibition on the use of funds for abortions at federal prisons. Offered by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), the amendment was defeated by a vote of 156-254. Current law includes an exception if the pregnancy is the result of rape or if the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. The Bureau of Prisons is required to provide transportation for female inmates to obtain abortion services outside the prison.

Arguing that women in prisons do not make enough money to provide for private health services, Rep. DeGette said, “If Congress denies women in federal prison coverage of abortion services, it is effectively shutting down the only avenue these women have for their constitutional right to pursue an abortion.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) opposed the amendment, saying, “Abortion is violence against children, and it hurts women. The inherent value and worth of a baby is in no way diminished because the child’s mother happens to be incarcerated.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) offered and withdrew an amendment that would have provided an additional $8 million for civil legal assistance grants under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The bill would level-fund VAWA programs at $284 million and juvenile justice programs at $287 million. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would receive a $10 million increase over last year to $291 million.

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