GOP Contract Aims at Clinton Crime Bill

New Congress would maneuver funding to eliminate most spending on prevention-oriented social programs

IF House Republicans in the next Congress get their way, President Clinton's plan to enhance crime-prevention programs may be in trouble.

In their ``Contract With America,'' the soon-to-be-majority House members indicate they would maneuver funding for prevention programs in such a way that money would likely be almost eliminated.

The Clinton plan combines funding for additional police and crime-prevention programs and lets local governments decide how to allocate the money. The provision to put 100,000 more police on the streets is popular in both parties.

In the $30-billion omnibus anticrime bill that Clinton signed into law in September, Congress authorized $8.8 billion over six years for the hiring of 100,000 new police across the country and $6.9 billion for crime-prevention programs.

The Republican contract would authorize only $10 billion over five years to cover both in local block grants. So in theory, local governments, under the GOP plan, could use all or most of their federal money for hiring police, paying for overtime, and purchasing equipment and technology that enhance law enforcement.

``We may wind up with more than 100,000 new police if local governments decide that's where they want to put their resources,'' says an aide to the House Republican Conference.

But if they did so, little or no money would be left for social programs, such as midnight basketball. Alternatively, local authorities could decide that social programs needed the funds more and hire fewer new police - but police organizations that strongly back the plan to bolster police forces express little concern that that might happen.

Left out in the cold are the social-justice advocates and criminologists who argue that society does too little to keep people, especially youth, away from the influences of the crime culture.

The contract eliminates one fledgling program outright, drug courts, which are meant to rehabilitate first-time and nonviolent drug offenders rather than put them in prison. The bill that Clinton signed authorized $1 billion over five years for them. In addition, the contract makes no mention of the Violence Against Women Act, a $1.6 billion program in the recently signed law that provides for new federal penalties and grant programs aimed at reducing crimes against women, such as domestic violence.

Democrats only sigh when asked about changes the new Republican majority wants to make. ``We struck a careful and smart balance in our bill,'' says an aide to a Democratic senator. Now, he adds, ``there's a hope we don't go back to the old days when we didn't look ahead and everybody was trying to out-tough each other.''

During last summer's debate on the crime bill, some Republicans vocally opposed what they called pork-barrel spending on soft social programs. Now, they say, it's their chance to fix the law and put in place the proper balance of get-tough measures. ``The supporters of social programs should be glad they weren't cut completely,'' says the House Republican Conference aide.

The Republican approach is bolstered by public opinion. With crime at or near the top of Americans' concerns, get-tough measures play well with the public. The death penalty, building more prisons, and policies that lock 'em up and throw away the keys enjoy large majorities of public support. (Ironically, Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics released over the weekend show that reported crime in the first six months of 1994 declined by 3 percent over the same period last year and is at its lowest level since 1986 - though murders are up by 3.2 percent .)

Last Friday, Clinton warned against efforts to make major changes in his anticrime law, and he singled out the provision banning some assault weapons. The contract does not call for a repeal of the ban, but some gun-rights supporters, emboldened by the Republican sweep in last month's elections, have started talking about trying to do that.

The focus of the contract's ``Take Back Our Streets Act'' is punishment as a deterrent to crime. The first reform concerns the legal procedure known as habeas corpus, in which prisoners can file virtually endless appeals to their sentences. Under the reform, a one-year filing limit would be placed on habeas corpus appeals.

Also included in the crime provision of the contract:

* Mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that involve guns. The punishment for a first conviction would be 10 years, 20 years for a second conviction, and life in prison for a third.

* Authorization of $10.5 billion over six years for the building of prisons. This would allow for more ``truth in sentencing,'' i.e., prisoners would serve a greater portion of their sentence than is now the case, say Republicans.

* Greater flexibility in waiving the ``exclusionary rule.'' Current law would be amended to allow introduction of evidence obtained in good faith by police officers who believed they were following the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, even in the absence of a search warrant.

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