A majority of the House of Representatives has signed a discharge petition requiring that a constitutional amendment barring school busing be taken up on the House floor.
A discharge petition is an unusual and rarely successful method of forcing a committee to give up its claim to handling a bill and requiring floor action. Under House rules a majority, or 218 members, must sign the petition to make it effective.
According to Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which handles constitutional amendments, the required number on the constitutional amendment on school busing was reached last night.
Other sources said floor action cannot be avoided and, under the rules, which require printing of the amendment in the Congressional Record and a seven-day period after that, July 23 will be the day the House is likely to consider the bill.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. said the constitutional amendment on busing probably will pass the House.
O'Neill said that since the issue received 218 supporters already it could probably get the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a constitutional amendment.
"It's an issue that's gone by in many areas of the country. But it's a hard political issue for people to vote against."
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on constitutional amendments, said that even if the House gets the required two-thirds vote to adopt the busing amendment, "the Senate will never do it."
But there are other constitutional amendments, barring abortion and requiring a balanced budget, being bottled up in the Judiciary Committee. And Democratic leaders fear that one successful discharge petition might lead to others.
"This will just bust loose all those damned demagogic amendments," one disgusted liberal Democrat said last night.
The discharge petition on busing was circulated by Rep. Ronald Mottl (D Ohio). He got about 190 signatures on such a petition last year, but Democratic leaders persuaded several members to take their names off when the total neared 200.
This year, Edwards said, "It's just a much more conservative Congress.
"As long as Democrats are joining Republicans in this, any petition will have hopes of success," Edwards said. "It's a sad day for the House."
The Judiciary Committee has been sitting on the school busing amendment for several years, refusing even to hold hearings. Rodino said last night, "I frankly felt for some time it would have been better to hold hearings so that we could present both sides of the issue."
Rodino called busing a "highly emotional and volatile issue." The House several times by wide margins has passed amendments to other bills barring use of federal funds for busing. Rodino said court-ordered busing in cities such as Louisville and Detroit have caused many Democrats to join conservative Republicans in signing the discharge petition.
"What we have to do now is present a case so that amendment won't be passed," Rodino said. "In areas of the country that have had this problem it's been emotion-packed at first, but afterwards it's been demonstrated that busing does work in everybody's best interest."