Congress Hung Up On Making Key Juvenile Justice Policy Decisions: ‘Son of Istook’ Returns to Haunt Youth Advocates

Bill Howard
July 1, 1997

A new version of the 1995 attempt by GOP conservatives to muzzle lobbying by non-profit organizations on the local level has returned to haunt youth advocates like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

An amendment in s. 10 to renew the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act sponsored by Sens. Orring Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would bar the use of federal funds available under the act to influence “any state legislature, any local council or any similar governing body.” And it also would prohibit use of these funds “directly or indirectly to file an action or otherwise take any legal action against any federal, state, or local agency, institution or employee.”

OMB Watch and the Alliance for Justice are arguing the proposed restrictions exceed lobbying rules already in effect in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-122 which specifically exempt lobbying – or any kind of contacts with government agencies need to conduct local service programs. The 1984 OMB rules superceded a prohibition against local lobbying that was in the original 1974 JJDP Act.

“Enforcement of the Hatch-Session amendment,” says Heather Hamilton of OMB Watch, “could affect the operation of mentoring programs, anti-drug, anti-gang, and Boys and Girls Club programs – anything local – where there’s JJPA money.”

The word “indirectly” in the ban on legal actions, she said, could extend to research reports produced under an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention grant if they were later used in a law suit, such as a complaint against abuses in a local child welfare agency. The hooker: the grantee could be held liable to pay any judgment.

In 1995, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), a one-time radio news reporter, sponsored an amendment that would have restricted nonprofit agencies to spending only 5 percent of their own non-federal funds on local, state and federal contacts – effectively putting them out of business. Congress dropped the proposal after the YMCA and other agencies said the way Istook broadly defined “political advocacy” would have throttled a whole range of community services, from day care to combating youth gangs.

Howard, Bill. "Congress Hung Up On Making Key Juvenile Justice Policy Decisions: ‘Son of Istook’ Returns to Haunt Youth Advocates." Youth Today, July/August 1997, p. 25.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.