'Sue and settle' bill sets off civil rights flap

The stated intention of the bill, penned by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), is to end so-called “sue and settle” practices under which green groups file lawsuits contesting policies that they charge are harmful to the environment or public health.

Subsequent settlements involving more stringent environmental restrictions settlements – often hammered out behind closed doors and approved by a judge – amount to the EPA setting regulations outside of the formal rulemaking process.

During consideration of the bill, Democrats on the House Judiciary panel said they feared it could be interpreted broadly and could impair the government’s ability to use consent decrees in civil rights cases.

“This bill effectively undermines congress’ statutory mandates for agencies concerning civil rights,” said Rep. John Conyers, (D-Mich.), I see a huge threat to civil rights activity.”

Rep. Steve Cohen offered an amendment to the bill that would exempt consent decrees intended to “prevent discrimination based on race, religion, national origin” and other protected categories.

The measure found opposition among Republicans, including Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertHouse GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Ex-GOP lawmaker: Strzok hearing 'was a humiliating day' for Republicans Peter Strzok exhibited an astonishing lack of self-awareness MORE (R-Tx) who said the bill would not hamper civil rights protections.

“It’s not about race, its about endangered species,” he shouted during a heated exchange with Cohen. “And if the gentleman can point to an endangered species in this country that is a human being, I am with him one hundred percent.”

Democrats persisted in their contention, with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) declaring that the bill was “part of a general conspiracy to destroy the ability of government to enforce protective laws.”

Democrats found support for the amendment from just one Republican, Rep. Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusManufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank Manufacturers ramp up pressure on Senate to fill Ex-Im Bank board Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees MORE, (R-Ala.), who argued that Republicans should accept the amendment to avoid any appearance that it would involve civil or voting rights,

“Lets not mess with civil rights,” Bachus said. “I just say carve it out and move on.”

Ultimately the amendment was voted down by a tally of 16-13. The bill was approved 17-12, along party lines, and heads next to the full House.