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Key Senators to Unveil Modified Civil Rights Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Key Republican and Southern Democratic senators are expected to add their support today to a modified version of a major civil rights bill--a move that could help persuade President Bush to withdraw his opposition to the measure.

The group of moderate and conservative senators, led by Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), will unveil an agreement with the bill’s supporters that modifies the language of certain requirements and thus ensures the lawmakers’ support of the legislation, sources familiar with the agreement said. Danforth, like Bush, earlier had expressed concerns that the bill created quotas for women and minorities.

Sources said that language contained in the agreement is aimed at removing White House objections to “the perception of quotas.”

The original bill, aimed at reversing a series of recent Supreme Court rulings, would have required employers to prove that a legally challenged job practice is an “essential business necessity.” Some business executives and lawmakers complained that the language would set impossible new standards that would force businesses to hire by quota to avoid lawsuits.

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In its place, an amendment authored by Danforth is expected to call for employers to prove that practices that affect women and minorities have a “substantial” and “demonstrable” relationship to job performance. For example, if physical tests for firefighters result in few women being hired, the employer would have to prove that the tests had a necessary relationship to the job.

The amendment closely follows a similar proposal inserted in the House version of the bill, sources said.

Even if the amendment fails to satisfy Bush’s objections, the additional support from the GOP members and conservative Southern Democrats brightens the chances that the bill could survive a presidential veto.

Among the senators expected to join Danforth as co-sponsors of the amendment are John Heinz (R-Pa.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) and Charles S. Robb (D-Va.).

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles) introduced the civil rights legislation to reverse a series of 1989 Supreme Court decisions that both weakened affirmative action programs and made it more difficult to prove job discrimination.

Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh last month said he would recommend to Bush that the bill be vetoed. But earlier this week, the Administration began publicly backing away from that position.

Bush said Wednesday that his staff is “working hard to get an agreement” that would allow him to support the bill. “I hope we can narrow the differences enough so that we can go forward together on this legislation,” he said during a news conference.

During the day, Bush discussed the legislation with leaders of a dozen groups, including the American Assn. of University Women, the Anti-Defamation League and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We’re in the listening stage here, with reasonably open minds,” he said after the meetings.

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