House OKs sweeping bill to fight crime Measure would expand list of capital offenses, reduce rights of the accused

October 23, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The House overwhelmingly approved yesterday an anti-crime bill that would extend the death penalty to several drug-related crimes, reduce the rights of the accused in federal cases and expand federal aid to local law enforcement agencies.

The House measure, which was approved by a vote of 305-118, is a patchwork that was stitched together by conservatives who worked to stiffen penalties and by liberals who tried to protect civil liberties. The White House gave the measure its qualified support.

Before a crime package is sent to President Bush, the House version must be reconciled with one approved in July by the Senate that would ban nine types of semiautomatic assault weapons and provide a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases.

The House rejected last week a ban on semiautomatic weapons, but it passed a similar waiting period for handgun purchases in May.

Representative Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., the leading sponsor of the legislation, predicted that the Senate and House would negotiate a compromise in conference committee that would win Mr. Bush's support.

"It's a bittersweet bill," he said. "We have some tough provisions, but the defeat of the assault-weapon provision is something we're going to have to fight again next year."

Mr. Bush has indicated that he would sign gun-control legislation if Congress expanded the list of crimes covered by the federal death penalty and if it imposed strict limits on the ability of state prisoners, particularly capital offenders, to appeal their convictions in federal court.

In last night's vote, 94 Republicans joined 211 Democrats to approve the bill; 49 Democrats, 68 Republicans and one independent opposed it. All members of Maryland's delegation voted for the bill except Kweisi Mfume, D-7th., who opposed it.

The passage of a number of amendments introduced by Republicans stripped provisions that would have allowed race-related appeals to overturn death sentences, thereby narrowing differences with the Senate version. One of the deleted provisions would have allowed death row inmates to appeal if a disproportionate number of capital punishment sentences in their state were given to prisoners of the same race.

The House bill would limit federal court reviews of inmate appeals, broaden the admissibility of evidence and provide money to police departments to expand street patrols and to prisons for drug treatment for convicts who seek help.

The bill also would expand the list of capital offenses to more than 50 federal crimes, including murders committed in the course of most narcotics-related crimes and attempted murders of witnesses in drug cases.

Currently, the death penalty is allowed for only two federal crimes, airline hijacking that results in death and certain drug-related murders.

The House version differs from the Senate bill in a number of ways, particularly in terms of money for crime-prevention programs and gun control. The Senate provided three times more money to finance local anti-crime programs and called for a three-year ban on the manufacture and sale of nine types of semiautomatic weapons.

The House struck a similar gun-control measure from its bill last week, under heavy pressure from the gun lobby.

The House version also would give state prisoners, including those on death row, wider latitude to appeal their convictions in federal courts.

But the two bills dovetail in other important ways. Like the Senate version, the House bill would require drug testing for most federal prisoners. Both the House and Senate bills would impose long, mandatory minimum prison sentences for dealing drugs to minors.

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