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Black Caucus' New Agenda Focuses on Fighting Drugs


WASHINGTON — The Congressional Black Caucus introduced a new legislative agenda Thursday that targets the war against drugs, offering proposals to strengthen rehabilitation programs, expand the court system and increase anti-drug education efforts.

The caucus, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), also unveiled measures to exempt grandmothers and other care-givers from welfare reform, to build computer centers in low-income communities, to reduce capital gains taxes for small businesses and to help rebuild schools.

The new agenda is a marked departure from the Black Caucus' traditional demands for big-government spending programs, reflecting the predominantly liberal and Democratic group's need to work with a conservative, GOP-led Congress--and its desire to reflect the concerns of members' constituents.

"In listening to our constituents, we have to always be on top of their beliefs," said Waters. "Our communities are devastated by drugs and we're tired of sitting here watching failing programs like 'Just Say No.' "

The caucus has discussed its agenda with leaders of both parties, including Vice President Al Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), and said that it remains optimistic about the passage of its proposals.

"We have no permanent friends. We have no permanent enemies. We have permanent interests," said one caucus member, reciting the group's motto.

The group's legislative package contains 11 bills, with seven of them aimed at curbing drug abuse. The anti-drug legislation would give an additional $300 million to rehabilitation programs in at-risk areas, create a radio and billboard anti-drug campaign in low-income communities, expand drug courts that prosecute first-time or small-time drug offenders, fund drug treatment in prisons, teach developing countries how to grow crops other than coca and establish a Justice Department program to monitor the confiscation and disposal of drugs by local police departments.

Other proposals include exempting grandparents and other family care-givers from the work requirement contained in the welfare reform law, creating a small business development fund to assist women- and minority-owned businesses, awarding grants to nonprofit organizations to build community computer centers and giving grants to public school districts to improve their buildings.

The caucus said that these initiatives would not put any strain on the proposed budget deal because they could fit within planned funding. The caucus said that the proposals would benefit all Americans, regardless of race.

"These are family and pocket-book issues that are of real concern," said Rep. Sheila Lee (D-Texas). "So far, the 105th Congress has yet to get down to carrying out the business of the people."

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