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House Panel OKs Anti-Crime Package : Legislation: The 13 bills include 'three strikes' measure and a prevention program. Voting falls along party lines.


WASHINGTON — Moving swiftly to put a crime bill on the House floor before Congress' Easter recess, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a package of 13 anti-crime bills, including a modified version of the "three strikes" legislation and a $6.3-billion crime prevention program.

The committee voted to authorize $3 billion to help states build prisons and to expand the federal death penalty to cover more than 50 crimes, including major drug dealing and espionage that results in the death of an American agent.

Votes on the separate bills were mainly along party lines, foreshadowing floor fights next week over tougher provisions that Republicans failed to get approved but are expected to offer again.

House Democratic leaders wanted to give rank-and-file members a chance to tell voters during the two-week spring break that they had approved President Clinton's crime bill.

By a vote of 27 to 8, the panel approved a bill to impose mandatory life imprisonment without parole for criminals convicted of three violent crimes or of two violent crimes and a serious drug offense--provided the third crime was one of violence.

The committee modified the "three strikes" provision, however, to allow inmates older than 70 who had served 30 years in prison to be released if they pose no threat to society.

Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), who is 71, drew laughter when he remarked: "I can tell you that at age 70, you're not near as dangerous as you'd like to be."

Prison officials and other critics of the three-time-loser provision have warned that it could turn federal prisons into high-cost geriatric wards. The panel earlier rejected a proposal to allow the release of prisoners at age 60 if they had served 25 years behind bars.

In general, the House bill is less sweeping than the legislation approved by the Senate in November. As soon as the House approves its version of the legislation, a Senate-House conference will meet to work out a compromise between the two.

Spurred on by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, the House panel included a multibillion-dollar program of grants to crime-prone areas. The grants would go for recreation, job training and other activities designed to steer young people away from lives of crime.

Republicans decried the $6.3-billion grant package as "vague and fuzzy" but did not attempt to defeat it or trim it back in committee, postponing serious opposition until the legislation reaches the House floor.

The committee, on a 25-10 vote, approved dozens of additions to the list of crimes warranting the death penalty. They include drive-by killings, carjackings that result in death, and leading large narcotics rings with yearly revenues of $20 million or more--even if no homicide is committed.

The committee rejected, 24-11, an attempt by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to knock out all federal death penalties and substitute life imprisonment without parole.

Acting on another controversial provision, the committee modified a Senate-passed provision to require federal courts to prosecute 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds as adults if they are charged with serious, violent crimes. The House panel changed the provision to allow prosecutors to decide whether such teen-agers should be tried as adults or follow procedures for juveniles.

Projected cost of the legislation is $22 billion, with the lion's share going to put 100,000 more police officers on the streets and to provide grants to states for new prisons for violent offenders.

The legislation authorizes $3.4 billion for rehabilitation of criminals, including $1 billion for treatment of drug addicts in prison and $1.6 billion for "drug courts" that would provide supervised treatment outside of prison.

The money would come from funds the government would save through a much-touted plan to reduce the federal work force by 252,000 employees over the next five years.

Rep. Steven H. Schiff (R-N.M.) described the rush to fund crime prevention, strongly backed by the Clinton Administration and liberal Democrats, as "a license to raid the Treasury for anything and everything if you can say it's for fighting crime."

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