March 2, 2001

Political Notes:

Democratic Caucus Opposes GOP Plan to Separate Colleges by Race, Ethnicity

At this morning's (2/28/01) Democratic Caucus meeting, the Caucus unanimously passed a resolution offered by Democratic Education Committee Reps. Major Owens (NY), Ruben Hinojosa (TX), Patsy Mink (HI), and George Miller (CA), the Ranking member on the committee. The resolution condemns the Republican plan to separate colleges and universities along racial or ethnic lines in the Education Committee. It calls on Speaker Hastert and House Republicans to restore Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Tribally Controlled Colleges to their appropriate place within the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, which has jurisdiction over all other institutions of higher learning. The following is a joint statement from Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (TX) and Vice Chair Robert Menendez (NJ):

"Americans know that separate is not equal. So in this day and age, it is almost inconceivable that Republicans insist on separating colleges and universities along racial and ethnic lines. Unfortunately, Republicans on the Education and Workforce Committee have done just that.

"It's unfortunate that Republicans don't view these colleges and universities as part of the Higher Education Act. By placing Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Tribally Controlled Colleges out of the Subcommittee which reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, Republicans have jeopardized the important role these colleges and universities play in higher education.

"Since Education Committee Republicans have spurned committee Democrats' efforts to right this wrong, the Democratic Caucus has passed this resolution to make clear - in the strongest possible terms - House Democrats' staunch opposition to the Republican effort to separate colleges and universities along racial or ethnic lines.

"We urge Speaker Hastert and all House Republicans to rectify this injustice. All children - regardless of race or ethnicity - deserve equal access to quality higher education. And all colleges and institutions - regardless of the race or ethnicity of the students they serve - deserve equal treatment from this Republican Congress."

President Bush's Budget Allows Bigger Social Security Accounts Than Expected, Analyst Says

Cato Institute analysis says workers could invest up to half their payroll taxes

WASHINGTON — President Bush's budget contains enough money to let workers invest as much as half of their 12.4 percent Social Security tax in personal retirement accounts, according to an initial analysis by Cato Social Security Analyst Andrew Biggs. That is substantially more than the 2 percent accounts often mentioned during the presidential campaign. Biggs explains:

"President Bush's fiscal year 2002 budget pledges that the entire $2.6 trillion Social Security surplus `will be saved for Social Security reform and will be used to retire debt held by the public until Social Security reform is enacted' (p. 45). While the administration has not said how much it would dedicate to reform, this whole sum could be made available to fund personal retirement accounts. If accounts were limited to workers aged 55 and younger and 70 percent of eligible workers participated, the cost for accounts investing 6.2 percent of workers' wages from 2002-2011 would be around $2.09 trillion. That means the accounts could be funded out of the surplus with money to spare.

"With the money President Bush has set aside, it is possible to fund personal retirement accounts investing the full employee's share of the payroll tax without cutting a penny of benefits to current retirees. The employer's half of the 12.4 percent total Social Security tax could continue to be paid into the current system. The remainder of the surplus and the $842 billion contingency fund in the Bush budget could be tapped to reduce government debt.

"If a 2 percent personal account is good, 6 percent is better. With a 2 percent account holding stocks and bonds earning 5.5 percent after inflation, a worker making $20,000 annually would retire after 45 years with around $79,000 in today's dollars. A 6 percent account would triple that nest egg to $237,000. Larger accounts mean much more money saved today and much less need for an increased retirement age, tax hikes or benefit cuts in the future.

"Critics will say that using Social Security surpluses for personal accounts will cut debt reduction. But personal accounts and debt reduction have identical effects on the economy, since both provide new capital for investment. And financially speaking, personal accounts' higher rates of return would make them far more effective at paying future Social Security benefits. Personal accounts also ensure that the benefits of saving the Social Security surplus go only to Social Security. Finally, setting aside the full Social Security surplus for personal accounts also addresses the so-called `transition costs' of privati-zation. In sum, the president's willingness to hold the line on spending and set aside real resources for Social Security means a solution to the nation's largest long-term problem is in sight."

Strong Racial Profiling Legislation Proposed For California

Legislation to move California forward in its effort to curb the pernicious practice of racial profiling has been introduced by Assemblymembers Marco Firebaugh and Jerome Horton. AB 788 broadens the collection of race data in traffic stops, clarifies that it is illegal for race to be used as the basis of a law enforcement decision unless a specific suspect description includes race, and provides an incentive to law enforcement to comply with the prohibition against racial profiling by allowing citizens who experience the practice to pursue legal claims for damages.

"We are one of the most diverse states in the nation," says Linda Hills, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, "yet, every day, Californians suffer the effects of racially biased policing. It is hypocritical for a state that has outlawed the use of race in public education, employment and contracting to sit quietly and allow the use of race by police for traffic stops and searches."

AB 788 tackles the problem from several angles by

Requiring statewide data collection in traffic stops for a period of at least five years, with yearly reporting, a 5-year statewide report, and data standards that include the race of the motorist, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, whether drugs or other evidence of illegal activity was found, and whether a citation was issued. Fewer than ten police departments, of which the San Diego Police Department is one, include all of this information, seen by civil rights groups as a necessary baseline for meaningful analysis.

Setting new data standards for local law enforcement agencies that use state funds to collect data voluntarily, including the requirement that they collect the data outlined above.

Creating a strong new definition of racial profiling, clarifying that race may not be used "in any fashion" or "to any degree" in determining who is stopped, except in the case of a specific suspect description.

Establishing a legal cause of action for individuals who experience racial profiling. An officer found in violation of the provisions of this bill would be liable for damages no less than $5,000.

The American Civil Liberties Union is working to pass the bill in coalition with civil rights groups throughout the state, including NAACP chapters, the United Farm Workers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the Asian Law Caucus, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and numerous others.

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