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U.S. News Archive
March 21 - March 28, 2001



This page contains news for the period March 21, 2001 through March 28, 2001.  

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Friday, March 23, 2001

New Hampshire legislators kill adoption bill for unmarried couples

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that New Hampshire lawmakers who sponsored the original legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children jointly failed to win House support to extend the right to all unmarried couples. Lawmakers killed House Bill 191 by a vote of 200-120.

The Children and Family Law Committee said the bill would have lessened the importance of marriage. The committee recommended killing the bill despite a report by the state Division of Children, Youth and Family that the overwhelming majority of children it serves come from homes where the adults aren't married.

Under the law adopted two years ago, children of unmarried couples can be taken away if the adoptive parent dies or the couple breaks up.

Supporters of the bill said the legislation would have given both members of
the couple a legal tie to the adopted child.

Critics which included the Catholic Church, said the bill would have undermined two-parent, marriage-based families.

Arkansas judge strikes down sodomy law

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that an Arkansas judge threw out the state's anti-sodomy law Friday, saying it unfairly singled out homosexuals for prosecution.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge David Bogard said the Arkansas Legislature erred when it barred consensual, noncommercial sexual activities between people of the same sex while permitting the same activities among heterosexuals. Seven homosexuals brought a lawsuit challenging the law, saying they feared being charged and convicted and losing their jobs or professional licenses.

The state argued that the government had an interest in criminalizing behavior that most of its citizens would find morally inappropriate, but Bogard disagreed.

"The people of Arkansas have the right to legislate on issues involving morals, but homosexuality is not only a question of morals," Bogard said.

Bogard said a way of life "that is odd or even erratic" cannot be condemned just because it is different.

Ruth Harlow, legal director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, which represented the group, said that even though no one was prosecuted, its members did not like being branded as criminals.

"The law hangs over their heads and treats them like second-class citizens," she said. "It says it's illegal when you do it but not when your neighbor does, as long as they are heterosexual."

The Arkansas attorney general's office said it has not decided whether to appeal.

The current law carried a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. No one has been prosecuted under the 1977 law.

Arkansas Senate Committee approves "covenant marriage" bill

A story published today in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the"covenant marriage" bill cleared its third obstacle in the legislative process by receiving the endorsement of a Senate committee amidst heated questioning by Sen. Alvin Simes, D-West Helena.

Rep. Russ Hunt, R-Searcy, sponsor of House Bill 2039, was on the receiving end of a barrage of questions from the senator who said a covenant  marriage law could lead to spousal murder.

"This is to convolute and confuse people," Simes told Hunt. "This is more likely to lead to mental and physical abuse and even death."

Simes further stated that a covenant marriage could delay protective orders being issued against an abusive spouse.

"Would you enter into contract with me without legal advice?" Simes asked Hunt. "You're asking people who are 18 years old, regardless of their religious background, regardless of their educational background, to understand what they're doing when they sign this." Hunt responded that the soon-to-be-married couples would sign a   document indicating that they understood the details of a covenant marriage.

"I sign contracts all the time without legal advice, such as [applying for] a credit card," Hunt said. "If they don't understand, they don't need to be signing it."

Simes sternly said that the Legislature shouldn't get involved in marriage. Hunt responded that the state already requires marriage licenses. Further, Simes said, the bill would take away First Amendment rights for people to be married to the person of their choice.

"You're getting a little carried away, senator," Hunt told Simes. Hunt said his goal was to reduce Arkansas' divorce rate, which is third-highest in the nation. He said the bill is modeled after similar laws in Louisiana and Arizona.

If the bill, backed by Gov. Mike Huckabee, is enacted, it would allow covenant marriages, under which married couples could agree to undergo counseling and to wait two years after their legal separation before finalizing their divorce. Exceptions would be allowed in cases of physical and sexual abuse, proof of adultery and felony convictions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

South Carolina state legislators want to stop contraceptive funding for umarried people

A story released today by EWTN News reports that South Carolina's House of Representatives approved last week a measure eliminating state funding for contraceptives and abortion for unmarried individuals. Another state amendment would apparently end state payments for drug-induced abortions. Critics, however, have raised the spectre of such a measure leading to a loss of all Medicaid funding from the federal government.

Medicaid currently pays for abortions in cases in which the pregnancy threatens the mother's life or when it is the result of rape or incest. South Carolina's Heath and Human Services Director Bill Prince told Republican state Rep. Rick Quinn that his agency "cannot deny payment for an abortion that meets federal guidelines," and House leaders have indicated that they will back away from this measure if such information is accurate.

The state's Republican Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler urged state legislators to allow the introduction of "Choose Life" license plates that would permit residents to purchase them for $70, with proceeds going toward private, non-profit crisis pregnancy programs that "work to curb abortions with shelter, food,clothing, education, medical care, and adoption services." State Sen. Mike Fair has decided to sponsor this bill.

House Republicans want to abolish 'marriage penalty' but keep 'marriage bonus' in income tax code

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that House Republicans are working on legislation that would go further than President Bush's plan in easing the tax marriage penalty and give families an immediate break by raising the child tax credit effective for this year.

The draft measure, which was circulated in Capitol Hill is likely to be considered by the House Ways and Means Committee this week and will reach the House floor next week.

Social conservatives legislators of the Republican party have vowed to pass a marriage penalty relief much broader than  what Bush requested in his10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut.

``My feeling is that we're going to be able to do better than what the president did in that area,'' said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Lawmakers are also under pressure to give more tax relief to help the sputtering economy. The House GOP plan would increase the $500 child tax credit to $600 retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year, and then gradually raise it to $1,000 by 2006.

The marriage penalty affects an estimated 25 million two-earner households because income tax brackets are narrower for single people than they are for couples.

Under current law, the 15 percent bracket applies to the first $27,050 of a single person's taxable income, or $54,100 for two single people. A married couple, on the other hand, pays the lowest 15 percent rate on only their first $45,200 of income.

The House GOP plan would enlarge the bottom 15 percent bracket so that it is equal to twice that of singles. For those who don't itemize deductions, the House measure would raise the current $7,600 standard deduction for married people so that it equals that of two singles, which would now be $9,100 combined.

This effectively gives a tax cut to virtually all married couples, even those in one-income households that now receive a tax bonus. Former President Clinton last year vetoed a Republican bill closely resembling this year's emerging legislation.

Bush only proposed to provide two-earner couples a 10 percent tax deduction for the first $6,000 of the lower-earning spouse's income, gradually rising to $30,000.

The House legislation would hold down the cost somewhat by slowly phasing in some of the changes. While the new standard deduction for married couples would take effect in 2002, and changes in the 15 percent bracket would not begin until 2004 but will be fully effective in 2009.

The plan also would make adjustments in the earned income tax credit for working families and gradually raise the alternative minimum tax exemption for married couples.

Earlier this month, the House passed Bush's 10-year, $958 billion cut in all income tax rates. It plans action by April on the president's proposal to eliminate the estate tax.


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