Sunday, January 19, 2003

Issues await Boehner's panel



By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Boehner, will handle a number of major issues in the session of Congress that just began:

Special education

The top issue for the committee, and one it expects to handle early, is rewriting the law governing special education for 6 million children. The law expires this year.

ON THE WEB
• Rep. John Boehner's Web site
House Education and Workforce Committee
Though he acknowledges it may not be politically possible, Mr. Boehner wants to let states try vouchers allowing parents to send their children to private schools.

"Not if we have anything to say about it," said the National Education Association's top lobbyist, Randall Moody.

Mr. Boehner will find more help from the teachers union in his efforts to solve the problem of disruptive special education students. Though they can be expelled, they still must be educated at taxpayer expense.

"(That) rankles a lot of school districts," Mr. Boehner said. "Because special needs children then are getting preferential treatment, in their view, as opposed to other children who have discipline problems who may be expelled from school.."

On that, he'll face resistance from lobby groups for parents and students in special education.

"The discipline issue is probably the most explosive issue from a disability advocacy perspective," said Paul Marchand, a lobbyist for The Arc. The national group advocates for people with mental retardation and related developmental disabilities.

Pension security

Mr. Boehner will bring back a bill that the House passed last year. It died in the Senate.

The Pension Security Act would give workers new freedoms to diversify their retirement savings within three years, expand worker access to investment advice to help them manage their retirement accounts, empower workers to hold company insiders accountable for abuses, and give workers better information about their pensions.

The AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, considered Mr. Boehner's bill a "watered-down reform bill," that would not do as much as the Senate's bill to protect workers' 401(k) retirement plans.

Comp time

Mr. Boehner plans to pass a bill allowing hourly workers to take compensatory time instead of overtime. A 1938 law prohibits that.

"Family comp time is an issue that's long overdue," he said.

Unions will fight Mr. Boehner on this, seeing it as a way for companies to simply avoid paying workers what they're owed.

"Employers' motivation for comp time is to save money," AFL-CIO lobbyist Bill Samuel said.




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