The House Judiciary Committee, warning that it is concerned about new FBI guidelines increasing agents' authority to investigate domestic groups that advocate violence to achieve social or political change, voted yesterday to postpone the new regulations until Jan. 1.
Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.) initially favored eliminating the new guidelines, which had been in effect for two months, but agreed to the compromise, which was approved on a voice vote. Rodino said he was trying "to send a message to the Justice Department that the committee is concerned about the new domestic security guidelines."
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), whose subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights held hearings on the new FBI guidelines, said he hoped the full committee could work out an agreement on them with the Justice Department by Jan. 1. He added that the committee is not trying to force previous investigative guidelines "down the FBI's throat."
The committee's postponement, however, is not binding until it is approved by Congress. The new guidelines, issued March 7 by Attorney General William French Smith, therefore will remain in effect unless Congress approves the postponement in its final action on the Justice Department authorization bill.
If it does, the old guidelines--issued in 1976 when Edward H. Levi was attorney general--would go back into effect. Levi issued the guidelines following disclosure at congressional hearings of a number of FBI abuses.
Although several Democrats on the committee were concerned that the new guidelines had what Rep. John F. Seiberling (D-Ohio) characterized as "Orwellian overtones," the postponement compromise was agreed to after committee conservatives led by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) threatened to fight the bill on the House floor.
In other action yesterday, the Judiciary Committee moved forward in its consideration of the authorization bill for the Legal Services Corp.
This free legal assistance for the poor has come under increased congressional scrutiny recently because of President Reagan's unsuccessful efforts to eliminate the program and his failure to put into place a board of directors confirmed by the Senate.
Reagan has filled only five of the 11 director positions, and they are serving in an acting capacity without Senate nominations.
The bill, which is expected to get final approval this morning from the committee, would--except in very limited circumstances--ban any payments to board members who have not been confirmed. In addition, it would allow payment to board members only for time spent at board meetings or visiting Legal Services programs.
The committee also cut back benefits approved last year by the unconfirmed board of directors which provided private club membership and a year's severance pay for Legal Services Corp. President Donald Bogard. If the bill is enacted, Bogard would be eligible for one week's severance pay for each year of service.
The committee voted to set up regulations for involvement by Legal Services attorneys in lobbying and class action lawsuits, two areas repeatedly criticized by the administration.
A bipartisan majority also overruled conservatives and approved a provision allowing Legal Services attorneys to represent illegal aliens who are asking the government for asylum.