"They have put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger."
That was the way one conservative caller last week described the comprehensive civil rights regulations proposed earlier this month by the Legal Services Corp. and published in the March 23 Federal Register (page 18055).
They include all the rules that drive Reagan conservatives crazy -- nondiscrimination against homosexuals, requirements for bilingual employes, affirmative action plans to guarantee employment of women and minorities at levels that reflect appropriate labor force characteristics," and inclusion of drug addiction and alcoholism as diseases that would qualify someone as being a "handicapped person" and thus protected from discrimination.
LSC, you must remember, is the nonprofit corporation that supports legal services for the poor by distributing $300 million in federal grants and contracts to local organizations, which use the money to pay for lawyers and other legal specialists in almost every county across the nation.
President Reagan has long had a distaste for the federally supported legal services program, and his administration, as part of the budget-cutting effort, has marked LSC for elimination next year.
An LSC official conceded that the agency's board was aware that the proposed regulations, developed before the White House termination plan was announced, would be a red flag for the Reaganites. But LSC decided to put the rules out for comment anyway because "this was our position."
The purpose of the proposed rules, according to the notice, "is to prevent discrimination by legal services programs supported in whole or in part by Legal Services Corp. funds in the delivery of services or in employment. . . ."
The proposed rules, which for the most part codify procedures in effect since LSC's establishment in 1974, add a prohibition against discrimination by reason of "sexual orientation." That phrase, an LSC official said, refers to homosexuals.
The agency, she added, decided to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals because similar policies have been adopted by the District of Columbia and other state and local entities.
The rules, however, also bar recipients of LSC funds from having "any contractual or other relationship" with other agencies or organizations including "labor unions, (or) organizations providing or administering fringe benefits to employes of the recipient . . ." if the agencies discriminate against specified groups, including homosexuals.
That provision, according to my outraged caller, "would eliminate the Catholic Church groups." Not so, according to the lSC official, and if it did, the rule would be altered. "That is why we have put it out for comment."
Another provision that's bound to draw criticism is one that says a recipient of LSC funds cannot "make a preemployment inquiry as to whether an applicant is a handicapped person or as to the nature of or severity of a handicap except where the examination or inquiry is related to an essential job function."
What about drug addiction and alcoholism, which LSC includes as characteristics of a certain kind of "handicapped person"? On first blush, the LSC official said a lawyer certainly could be questioned, but there was doubt about other job applicants.
Fund recipients under the rules would be required to provide bilingual employes, "not limited to clerical positions," in "any area where 5 percent of the eligible population are members of a minority language group." They also must provide informational literature in the appropriate languages and post signs in those languages. The percentage requirement was taken from the federal voting rights law, which requires ballots to be bilingual in areas where 5 percent of the population speaks a language other than English.
Grant recipients that have 50 or more employes must have an affirmative action plan approved by LSC's director of office of equal opportunity. Before producing such a plan, the recipient must "determine if underutilization on the basis of race, national origin or sex occurs in any job category or unit of its workforce" using a formula supplied by LSC.
Its plan must include "goals and timetables to correct underutilization of women and minorities." In those instances where a recipient is found to have an employe "workforce or segment of the workforce not on parity with the relevant labor market," approval of higher authorities would be needed before any vacancies were filled.
In the Carter years, LSC's rules would have raised a few eyebrows; today they may hasten the lowering of the boom.