NLC Wins Scaled Back Senate Faith-Based Initiative

Article excerpt

The National League of Cities, with the assistance of key faith-based organizations and civil rights groups, finally persuaded the Senate to pass a scaled-back version of the President's faith-based initiative by a vote of 95 to 5.

The long-delayed legislation lingered in the Senate for almost two years because of concerns over the preemption of state and local regulations and civil rights laws.

The Charity, Aid, Relief, and Empowerment Act (S. 272), dubbed the CARE Act, is primarily tax legislation that would provide incentives for charitable giving by providing $12.7 billion in new tax breaks for charitable giving and additional spending for social services. Most significantly the bill would restore more than $1.2 billion to Title XX of the Social Service Block Grant and allow taxpayers to deduct up to $250 per person for their charitable donations above $250.

The bill would also expedite review for non-governmental organizations wishing to incorporate as 501(c)(3) entities and provide technical assistance to groups through a Compassionate Capital Fund.

Consideration of the CARE Act was delayed in part by bipartisan concerns that the proposed tax provisions could not be supported by the government's current budget. The bill, if enacted, would expire in two years, allowing lawmakers to assess whether the deductions spurred charitable giving.

Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) also caused a stir in the deliberations when they insisted on the inclusion of language that would prohibit the preemption of state and local laws, protect employment discrimination laws, and disallow proselytization.

"If in the State of Illinois or my City of Springfield someone wants to run a daycare center ... if this becomes a faithbased childcare center, should we reduce or limit the same application of health and safety standards?" Dubin asked.

NLC won a major concession from the co-authors of the legislation, Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who promised that a companion bill from the House of Representatives will not contain any of the controversial provisions.

NLC opposed last year's House version (H.R. 7) of the CARE Act because it would have preempted local contracting authority and civil rights laws, imposed unfunded mandates, increased municipal liability, "voucherized" key social service programs and permitted the commingling of private and public funds. …