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House Subcommittee Approves H.R. 3206 - Fair Housing Act Amendments Of 1998 Jeopardize Rights Of People With Serious Brain Disorders

In a NAMI E-News Legislative Action Alert on February 19, 1998, NAMI reported on H.R. 3206, the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1998, legislation that would severely erode the protections from discrimination against people with serious brain disorders in public housing. The following is an update on the legislative status of H.R. 3206 and an ACTION REQUEST to increase our efforts to defeat this bill. Please refer to the February 19 NAMI E-News (which is attached at the end of the alert) for background information and talking points on H.R. 3206, and telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses of the Chairman and members of the Judiciary Committee where the bill now sits.

Yesterday afternoon, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution approved H.R. 3206 on a recorded party-line vote of 7-5, thereby clearing the measure for full Judiciary Committee consideration. The vote was held a mere 13 days after the bill was introduced. No hearings were held on the impact of the bill, and Chairman Charles Canady (R-FL) scheduled the vote with barely 48 hours' notice to the Subcommittee members and to the public.

We must increase our efforts to defeat H.R. 3206, and to expose its impact. This process began yesterday, as certain Subcommittee members offered a series of amendments to the bill, and highlighted its serious deficiencies. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) offered a motion to strike Section 3 of the bill, entitled "Specificity of Complaint," saying that it would make the complaint process inaccessible to most victims of discrimination; his amendment was defeated 7-4, along party lines. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) moved to strike Section 4, which would require a victim of discrimination to exhaust all state and local procedures before being permitted to file a complaint in federal court. He noted that federal protection of civil rights was necessary because state and local procedures were often set up to subvert civil rights protections, and that exhaustion of state and local remedies could take months or years. His amendment was defeated 7-4, also along party lines. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) moved to strike Section 2 of the bill, entitled "First Amendment Protections." Currently, the Fair Housing Act prohibits interference, coercion and intimidation, and discriminatory advertising. Section 2 would override these protections by saying: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to make the expression of an opinion...a violation of this Act." In other words, neighbors could, through the "expression of an opinion," create hostile environments to prevent people with serious brain disorders and other disabilities from moving in. Alternatively, owners of property could advertise that "we don't like mentally ill people living here," or something much more inflammatory and discriminatory. This amendment was defeated on voice vote, along party lines. Also defeated, on party lines, was a bloc of four "findings" that would have added language celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, condemning violence against protected classes, and acknowledging the positive impact of and need for group homes for people with disabilities and children in need. The bill then passed the subcommittee by a 7-5 vote, and was reported to the full Committee on a 7-5 vote.

Those voting for the bill were:

Charles Canady (R-FL); Henry Hyde (R-IL); Bob Inglis (R-SC); Ed Bryant (R-TN), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Bob Barr (R-GA) and Asa Hutchinson (R-AR). William L. Jenkins (R-TN) was not present during the markup.

Those opposing the bill were: Bobby Scott (D-VA), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Mel Watt (D-NC).

We hear continuing rumors that the bill will be voted on in the full Judiciary Committee as soon as Wednesday, March 4. Please make an effort to kill H.R. 3206 by contacting members of the House Judiciary Committee, and especially Henry Hyde (R-IL), its chairman.