UPI's Capital Comment for April 2, 2003

April 2, 2003 at 3:09 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

The student prints....

Privacy and family rights advocates are concerned that proposed changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act may allow increased federal government snooping into student educational records. A proposal from U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson, R-N.J., and Sen. Christopher 'Kit' Bond, R-Mo., would amend FERPA to add the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control to the list of groups permitted access to student records without parental consent.

Under FERPA, parents have the right to withhold consent for the release of their children's educational records except in very limited cases such as when law enforcement asks to see them. Supporters of the Ferguson-Bond proposal want to add CDC to the list of groups allowed to see records without parental consent as part of their effort to conduct research on developmental disabilities.

Privacy advocates are resisting the change, saying granting the CDC a blanket exemption should not compromise the rights of parents. According to their interpretation of the proposed revision, CDC could now could go into student records at any time for any reason and without a parent's knowledge or consent.

In a letter sent to Capitol Hill on Monday, privacy advocates, led by Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, said the legislation as written "will undermine and weaken the only privacy law on the books when it comes to the records of school children. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act provides protections over student education records. The force of FERPA puts parents in control over who can access their children's records while allowing some limited exceptions for educational purposes and law enforcement."

Also signing on to the letter are groups such as Concerned Women for America, the Free Congress Foundation, the Home School Legal Defense Association, the African American Republican Leadership Council and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Supporters of the amendment on Capitol Hill argue that CDC needs the exemption in order to fully investigate an alleged link between certain vaccines and the onset of autism in school-age children. They say that students records are the best single source for the data needed in the study. Nevertheless, privacy advocates fear that opening the door on this issue means it will eventually swing wide open, something that is not in the best interests of parents or children.

Piling on...

If you are going to throw a birthday party for Fidel Castro, currently the world's longest continually serving dictator, don't invite U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake. The Arizona Republican, a member of the International Relations Committee, recently introduced a resolution condemning the Cuban government for its systematic violations of the fundamental civil and political rights of the Cuban people. House Resolution 164 also calls on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners. "Fidel Castro is a brutal dictator," Flake said. "His regime's forty-year rein of power has come at the expense of the Cuban people. Every person, regardless of where they live, ought to enjoy certain fundamental human rights, and that's not happening right now in Cuba."

According to Flake's office, more than 75 Cubans have, in the past month alone, been arrested for trying to exercise their freedom. Many are organizers of the Varela Project, a referendum movement to guarantee human rights and civil liberties in the Caribbean country.

Traffic jam...

The Christian Defense Coalition advises that activists are planning a "Pray In" for Monday, April 7, at 3:30 p.m. in the middle of Times Square in the heart of New York City. The group says they plan to "kneel down in prayer in the middle of Broadway to pray for troops, our leaders, freedom for the Iraqi people, spiritual awakening for America's youth and stand in solidarity with the thousands brutalized by Saddam's regime." It is probably not a coincidence that the spot they have selected is across from the MTV studios that look out over Times Square.

Personnel notes...

The White House has announced the nomination of three new members of the board of directors for the United States Institute of Peace: Charles Horner of Washington will be named to the remainder of a four-year term ending in 2007 while Stephen Krasner of California and Daniel Pipes of Pennsylvania will be named to the remainder of four-year terms ending in 2005... Karen White, who ran the 1998 gubernatorial campaign of Maryland Democrat Gov. Parris Glendening, continuing on as a senior adviser after his victory, has gone over to EMILY'S List to become the new political director for the abortion rights bundling organization... The Washington office of BrabenderCox, a political consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, will now be run by Melissa Sabatine, a veteran communications professional who has held a variety of posts including deputy director of the Senate Republican Conference.

(Got an item for Capital Comment? E-mail it to CapComm@UPI.com.)

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