- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

A major overhaul of the nation’s bankruptcy laws cleared its last serious hurdle yesterday when Senate Republicans rebuffed an effort to single out pro-life protesters for additional punishment.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, proposed an amendment specifying that pro-life protesters cannot file bankruptcy to avoid paying fines and court judgments against them. Had the amendment passed, the bankruptcy reform bill likely would have been defeated, as in previous Congresses.

The amendment lost on a 53-46 vote yesterday afternoon. Hours later, Republicans headed off a Democratic filibuster of the overall bill with a 69-31 vote to limit how much time the chamber will spend on debate.

“Senator Schumer’s amendment was a blatant attempt to criminalize pro-life advocates who peacefully protest outside abortion clinics — with full legal protection — by insinuating that their intent is to commit violent acts,” said Lanier Swann, director of government relations for Concerned Women for America. “We defeated this poisonous amendment again this year, and we will continue to fight it if it dares to raise its ugly head in the future.

“The bankruptcy bill addresses a bipartisan concern, which was nearly jeopardized by Senator Schumer’s controversial and unnecessary amendment,” she said.

Mr. Schumer said the purpose of his bill was simple and straightforward.

“If you use violence or the threat of violence to achieve a goal — a political goal — and you are successfully sued as you should be by the person or persons you’ve used violence against, you can’t then go back home to a bankruptcy court and say, ‘Protect me,’” Mr. Schumer said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and longtime supporter of the bill, said the Schumer amendment was not necessary because there are no protections from court fines and legal judgments.

Even some Republicans who had voted for the Schumer amendment in the past said it was a “poison pill,” likely to scuttle the entire bill.

“The truth is it then became the single factor in the House’s rejection of the bankruptcy bill, a bill that passed this body by a vote of 83-15,” said Mr. Sessions, who had voted for the entire bill in previous years with the protester provision attached.

Said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican: “It would have been disastrous if this had passed. Democracy really dodged a bullet today.”

Among those who supported the Schumer amendment was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who has made the bankruptcy reform bill a top priority.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said she would oppose the overall bankruptcy bill because the Schumer amendment had been killed.

The bankruptcy reform bill is expected to be approved by the full Senate this week. The legislation then goes to the House, where it has broad support.

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