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Congress to Consider Bill That Broadens Civil Rights Coverage

THIS year Congress will consider two important pieces of civil rights legislation. In addition, some members of Congress are thinking beyond these two measures to the general outlines of the next generation of legislation intended to help minorities.

The first of this year's civil rights bills would extend to people with disabilities the same civil rights protection in jobs and public transportation accorded to minorities and women.

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This proposal is a top priority of organizations that represent the disabled and of their political allies. Approved last year by the Senate with the support of the White House, it is pending in the House of Representatives; the proposal is virtually certain to become law in 1990.

The second civil rights bill would attempt to reverse the impact of decisions last year by the US Supreme Court, which civil rights advocates hold made it harder to enact affirmative action programs and to prove discrimination in the workplace.

``I think everybody in the civil rights community would say without equivocation that [this] bill is the No. 1 civil rights priority'' this year in Congress, says Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an umbrella group of major civil rights organizations in Washington.

The prospect for this measure, however, is uncertain. It has yet to be introduced into either house of Congress, although that is anticipated late this month.

Although its sponsors include the chairmen of the committees and subcommittees that will consider the measure, lengthy hearings and considerable opposition from the business community are expected.

In addition, the proposal lacks White House support, although it does not have administration opposition either.

Thus far the administration has said that it wants to monitor the results of last year's Supreme Court decisions before concluding whether new legislation, such as this omnibus proposal, is needed.

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Many civil rights advocates do not doubt the need. The court decisions ``were such a [heavy] blow to civil rights activities,'' says Milton Greenberg, a professor of government and provost of American University.

The House measure to provide civil rights to people with disabilities faces more-complicated procedures than do most bills: Because of the sweeping nature of the antidiscrimination proposals, the bill must be acted upon by four different committees before the full House votes on it.

Last year one of the three committees acted; a second is likely to act within days after Congress reconvenes Jan. 23. The other two committees are likely to vote on the measure within a few weeks.

Before they do, however, opponents of elements of the proposal are expected to seek compromises on several aspects of the measure, congressional sources say.

The heaviest pressure probably will be to moderate the measure's requirement that new and many existing buses in America be modified to accommodate the disabled, including people in wheelchairs.

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