Byron One Of Six Md. Congressmen Supporting Civil Rights Bill

6th District Democrat Opposed Lack Of Jury Trial In Gop Version

June 09, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, joined five of Maryland's eight House legislators in support of a bill to ban workplace discrimination.

The measure passed the House 273-158 Wednesday, a margin that would not safeguard the bill from a threatened veto from PresidentBush.

A two-thirds majority vote -- 17 more votes than were cast in favor of the bill last week -- would be needed for the House to overridea presidential veto.

Along with Byron, Maryland House members endorsing the bill were Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Tom McMillen, D-4th, Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, and Constance A. Morella,R-8th

Maryland legislators Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, and Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, voted against the bill, saying they fear the measure would encourage job quotas.

The version of the civil rights bill the House passed was one of three considered by legislators lastweek, two of which were rejected by Byron, a seven-term congresswoman.

Byron did not support a version of the measure drafted by fellow Democrats Patricia Schroeder of Colorado and Edolphis Town of New York, because it contained no cap on lawsuit damage awards and no anti-quota language, said spokesman Beau Wright.

A Republican version,offered by House minority leader Robert Michel of Illinois and backed by the White House, also was opposed by Byron, a Frederick resident, because it called for damages to be determined by a judge, not a jury.

"If you're going to have someone suing over hiring practices, with possibility of damages being assessed, there should be a jury trial, instead of just leaving it up to a judge," Wright said.

Byronsupported the final version because it calls for returning to employers the burden of defending hiring practices. "It's more employee-weighted," Wright said.

Thursday, a member of the Carroll chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People welcomed passage of the bill, but said that Byron's vote caught him off guard.

"It's a major surprise to me," said William Hudson Jr., a pastvice president and current member of the county NAACP. "She usually doesn't go that way."

Though saying he is wary of quotas, Hudson expressed frustration at the state of civil rights in the workplace.

"I'm not so much inclined to agree with quotas, but there has to besomething out there to make employers aware that it's unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race," said Hudson. "If that's the tool touse, so be it."

Because of the looming Bush veto, the bill passedby the House likely will be dismantled in the Senate, where members are expected to begin trying to forge a compromise version.

"There's a ways to go on this," Wright said. "This is just the first phase."

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