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House Approves $28B Crime Bill

By Kenneth J. Cooper
The Washington Post

The House Thursday topped the Senate's $22 billion legislation and approved nearly $28 billion to build more prisons, hire more police and lock up criminals longer in an election-year effort to ease public anxieties about violence.

The fractious politics of House Democrats required a convoluted legislative procedure that took almost half a year longer than the Senate needed to produce omnibus crime legislation of the sort President Clinton requested last August. The crime bill was sent to a conference with the Senate, 285 to 141.

"The House of Representatives made their intentions clear: Crime will not pay," Clinton said applauding a bill that devotes half of the $28 billion to new prisons, spends about one-fourth on a variety of crime-prevention programs and most of the rest to hire 50,000 police officers.

The House bill, compared with the Senate version, proposes more funding to build prisons and steer young people away from crime but less to hire local police officers. The House version expands the federal death penalty to slightly more crimes, but moderates a politically popular plan to imprison for life offenders convicted in federal court of a third violent or serious drug crime.

Democratic supporters said the legislation offered a sensible and politically appealing balance between tougher punishment and effective prevention, but Republican critics dismissed it as not tough enough, particularly on the death penalty. Opposition from a majority of House Republicans made the vote much closer than the 95-to-4 vote to approve the Senate bill last November.

Because more than 90 percent of violent crime is handled at the state and local levels, the $28 billion legislation would try to meet its goals "to control and prevent crime" principally by aiding those governments, said Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on crime and criminal justice.

The legislation reached the floor last month with a pricetag of $15 billion over five years, amendments boosted the total to $27.9 billion.