Friday, July 27, 2007
House Passes Bill That Funds EEOC,
Rejects Bar on Agency English-Only Suits
The House July 26 passed a fiscal 2008 spending bill (H.R. 3093) to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with $333 million in funding, after it rejected a proposed amendment that would have barred EEOC from suing employers over workplace English-only policies.
By a 281-142 vote, the House approved the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which provides a total of about $53.6 billion for the covered departments and agencies in fiscal 2008. Under the bill, EEOC would receive an increase of about $4 million from its fiscal 2007 budget of $329 million and an increase of $5 million from President Bush's proposed budget of about $328 million for EEOC in fiscal 2008.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights would receive $9 million in fiscal 2008 under the bill. Overall, H.R. 3093 provides about $2.3 billion more for the covered departments and agencies than the administration's proposal. The president has threatened to veto any spending bill that exceeds the administration's fiscal 2008 budget request.
Setting up a potential conflict with the Senate, the House defeated by a 212-202 vote an amendment offered by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) that would have blocked EEOC from using funds to sue employers for alleged national origin discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for requiring employees to speak English in the workplace. Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to its version of the spending bill (S. 1745), sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), that would bar EEOC from initiating Title VII suits against employers for enforcing English-only rules (125 DLR A-13, 6/29/07 Click Here).
Potential Conflict With Senate
Prior to the House vote, Stearns said in a statement that EEOC is suing a Salvation Army outlet for firing two workers who failed to learn "basic English" even though a federal judge in 2003 had upheld the Salvation Army's English-only policy. He said taxpayers should not be compelled to support such EEOC suits when the commission faces a backlog of more than 54,000 discrimination charges. "These are our tax dollars at work, yours and mine, paying the salaries of the EEOC lawyers who file endless lawsuits while the Salvation Army must use its own funds, funds that would be better used helping the poor, instead of hiring attorneys to fight these kinds of cases," Stearns said.
The House's rejection of the Stearns proposal potentially puts it at odds with the Senate, depending on whether the Alexander amendment survives when the full Senate considers its version of the spending bill after the August recess. It is not clear yet whether an attempt will be made to remove the Alexander amendment from S. 1745 during Senate floor debate, according to aides for Alexander and for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.
The Senate bill also would increase EEOC's budget to $378 million in fiscal 2008, about $50 million more than the president's request and $45 million more than the House bill. Both the House and Senate bills bar EEOC from spending any funds on the National Contact Center, a call center for discrimination complaints that EEOC has contracted out to a private operator on a pilot basis since 2005.
GOP Bids to Reduce Funds Defeated
Also on July 26, the House approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that prohibits the use of any funds under H.R. 3093 for the hiring of illegal immigrants. It cleared by voice vote an amendment offered by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) that prevents the use of funds to pay for the attendance of more than 50 employees of a federal agency at a single conference held outside the United States.
In separate roll call votes, the House defeated a series of amendments offered by Republicans that would have reduced total appropriations under the bill by $750 million, by 3 percent, by 0.5 percent, or by 0.05 percent, respectively. Citing the president's threat to veto any fiscal 2008 appropriations bill that exceeds the administration's budget requests, the Republican sponsors urged the House to pass a Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies measure that the president could sign