Senate engages in free-for-all with plans for teen violence bill

Democrats, Republicans dust off old proposals in wake of Colo. shootings

May 12, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Senate began a legislative free-for-all on teen-age violence yesterday, taking advantage of the urgency created by the Colorado school shooting to promote personal and partisan agendas.

Republicans unearthed a long-stalled measure that would allow the prosecution of youth offenders as adults, to which they hope to add amendments intended to curb the depiction of violence in movies, music and videos, increase safety in schools and stiffen enforcement of gun laws.

"We have to recognize our shortcomings and do what we possibly can to correct them," said Sen. Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican who helped put together the GOP package.

For their contribution to the bill, Democrats dusted off plans to provide money for a variety of prevention programs and dreamed up some new ideas for gun control they hope can win bipartisan support.

"There is not a single catalyst that touches off an eruption of violence in our schools," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "Yet if you remove enough kindling, you can prevent a fire."

Despite enormous potential for controversy, senators said they were determined to find enough common ground to get a bill passed and signed into law.

Their first few votes failed to signal a clear trend.

An overwhelming majority of 94 to 5 approved an amendment, sponsored by New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg, that would provide $200 million in grants next year to help schools set up and run violence prevention programs.

Such programs might include training school bus drivers to deal with weapons or explosive devices and help parents recognize the early warning signs of troubled youths.

An even larger majority of 96 to 3 voted to adopt a proposal by Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, that would provide $500 million to help state and local governments hire more prosecutors to handle juvenile offenses, especially to combat gang crime.

But the Senate also voted strictly along partisan lines, 55 to 44, to defeat a proposal by Virginia Democrat Charles S. Robb that would have provided $155 million to create a National Resource Center for School Safety.

Robb described the center as a clearinghouse that would provide "one-stop assistance" for states, local governments, individuals and others not covered by existing programs.

Hatch complained that the proposal would simply "create another federal bureaucracy."

Gun control proposals

More contentious amendments are expected to come up later in the week, most of them dealing with gun control.

Republican leaders, who generally opposed gun control, decided after the 15 shooting deaths three weeks ago at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., to include a few modest firearms restraints in their package.

Those include a lifetime ban on gun ownership for anyone convicted as a youth of a violent offense, and an extension of the law prohibiting teens from possessing handguns to also deny them access to semiautomatic weapons.

Many Democrats want to go further, with proposals that would ban gun sales on the Internet, require background checks of purchasers at gun shows, require child-safety locks on handguns and reinstitute the three-day waiting period on the purchase of a handgun.

That waiting period was a key feature of the so-called Brady law, named after James Brady, the press secretary wounded in the attack on President Ronald Reagan. But Congress allowed the Brady law to expire last year.

"We're not going for everything we want," said New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer. "We're going for things we think have a real chance to pass."

Republicans could run into Democratic opposition on some of their efforts to arrest what they call the "cultural decline" that contributes to teen violence.

These proposals include a ban on the use of federal property in the making of "excessively violent movies," and allowing school prayer and religious symbols in situations where someone is killed on school grounds.

Amendments under siege

Idaho Republican Larry E. Craig said that the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech and freedom of religion, and the Second Amendment, which ensures the right to bear arms, would be under siege during the week's debate.

"But just as I have fought to prevent treading on the Second Amendment, I, too, will be a defender of the First Amendment," Craig promised, adding that Gene Autry and Roy Rogers would have had trouble with the ban on excessively violent movies.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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