House Passes Civil Rights Bill : Congress: Veto threat from the President is brushed off as lawmakers reject alternative version of legislation.

From Associated Press

The House approved a landmark civil rights bill today, brushing off a last-minute veto threat by President Bush, who contends the minority-hiring provisions in the legislation would lead to quotas.

"Stand up for what you know is right; stand up for America's values," Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) urged as the House approved the bill, 272 to 154.

The measure goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where prospects for compromise appear good. The Senate two weeks ago approved a version similar in all but a few features.

Approval came minutes after release of a letter from Bush threatening a veto and offering to sign an alternative version that he called a "sound, practical compromise."

He said that without changes the bill "will have the effect of forcing businesses to adopt quotas in hiring and promotion."

"It will also foster divisiveness and litigation rather than conciliation and do more to promote legal fees than civil rights," Bush said.

The alternative was rejected, however, as the House pressed ahead with the measure that would effectively overturn five Supreme Court decisions made last year and that tops the civil rights community's congressional list.

Major provisions range from a ban on racial harassment in the workplace to barriers to reopening court-approved fair-hiring agreements.

The alternative version proposed by Rep. John J. LaFalce (D-N.Y.) and praised by Bush would have tempered language designed to make it easier to win job bias suits against employers based on statistics.

It would also have capped at $100,000 punitive damages for intentional discrimination that courts could award to women, religious minorities and the disabled. The bill places no limit on such damages.

The LaFalce plan represented the major effort of critics to change the bill. It was rejected 238-188.

Lawmakers spoke of fierce last-minute lobbying on the plan.

"The pressures have been enormous, the intimidation has belied the vision and hope of civil rights, but in the end it is my face in that mirror," said Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), a supporter of LaFalce.

Democrats were harshly critical of the LaFalce amendment.

"It rips the heart out," said Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.). "We need some truth in labeling around here. You can't just slap on the label civil rights."

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