Watts' legislation allowing churches to get federal funds for drug programs passes

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Legislation by Rep. J.C. Watts to allow churches to receive federal funds for drug treatment programs was included in an overall package designed to help urban and rural communities. The House on Tuesday passed H.R. 4923, a $21 billion, 10-year program, on a 394-27 vote. "America is truly blessed as we continue in the longest economic boom in our history," he said. "But with all this extraordinary prosperity in every region of the country, there is still an unseen hunger that we ignore at great moral peril."

Watts said some neighborhoods are still struggling with vacant properties that become crack houses, potential business sites neglected because of costly environmental cleanup and areas ignored by venture capitalists. The bill would offer tax and regulatory relief provisions, including a zero capital gains rate on the sale of business assets held for more than five years, additional tax breaks for small businesses located in the areas and a special tax deduction for rehabilitation of run-down buildings, a story from the Tulsa World's Washington bureau said.

Some congressmen, including Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., called Watts' provisions "truly troublesome," adding that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled several times against funding religious organizations. A number of organizations, several of them church-related, have written to oppose the provisions, Scott said. He also is concerned that the bill exempts faith-based organizations from civil rights laws in their hiring and firing policies. Watts said the funds for drug-abuse programs would be handed out through programs set up by the states. To qualify, he said, a program would have to have a three-year track record. A state agency could require additional criteria, but Watts said those could not be designed to bar faith-based organizations.