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Newsletter > November 2006 > "CONGRESS CONSIDERS FRATERNITY ISSUES"
CONGRESS CONSIDERS FRATERNITY ISSUES
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, email@example.com
The Capital Fraternal Caucus, according to its web site, www.fraternalcaucus.org, is made up of Greek men and women in the Washington D.C. area with expertise in the public policy process. The goals of the Caucus include educating policymakers about the positive impact of Greek life, preserving the existing rights of fraternities and sororities, identifying opportunities for Greeks and government to work together to improve society and building a permanent Greek presence in Washington similar to the presence of other national trade organizations. In essence, the Caucus serves as a lobbying group for fraternity and sorority interests in the United States Congress. The Caucus estimates there are currently more than 160 members of the House and Senate who have a Greek background.
The work of the Caucus may be beginning to bear legislative fruit. On September 27th, the Caucus organized a national “Phone March” to urge members of Congress to support legislation which would make contributions for collegiate housing and infrastructure improvements (fraternity houses) tax deductible.
Legislation is pending in both houses of Congress. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Senator Richard Luger (R-IN) introduced S713 on April 6, 2005. A similar measure is pending in the House (HR 1548), introduced by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). The House passed such a bill last in the previous session of Congress, but there was no action in the Senate. The current House bill now has over 130 co-sponsors, while the Senate measure has 18.
The Phone March generated hundreds of calls to members in one day and secured at least eight additional co-sponsors to the legislation.
Also pending in the House is the College Fire Prevention Act (HR 128), introduced in January 2005 by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH). The bill would provide federal assistance for sprinkler systems or other fire suppression or prevention techniques. Such grants would be available to states, public and private colleges or universities and fraternities and sororities.
None of the bills appear likely to pass in the lame duck session of this Congress, which will resume after November’s Election Day. But the ground work for one or both of these measures may well have been put in place, which could make adoption in the session beginning in January more likely.
The Capital Fraternal Caucus is working with three major umbrella fraternal organizations, the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). The highly regarded Washington, D.C. law firm of Patton Boggs LLP is serving as pro bono counsel to the NIC, and their work is also being shared with NPC and NPHC. The Caucus has divided its work into several committees, including a policy development committee, a grass roots committee, which has as its goal developing a master database of Greeks across the country who are politically active, a member of the recruitment committee, and a social/events planning committee.
The web site of the Caucus also contains helpful information on contacting members of Congress, how legislation proceeds and news about fraternity and sorority groups.
Some national fraternal organizations have developed formal relationships with the Caucus.
Among the benefits of being involved in the political/legislative process is it helps to establish a fraternity or sorority group as an expressive association under the protection of the First Amendment. Such activity must be balanced against Internal Revenue Code requirements relating to the tax status of the organizations. Carefully limited involvement in organizations like the Fraternal Caucus and in advocating for the adoption of particular legislation or action on public policy positions should not have any negative impact on the tax status of fraternities and sororities.
Obviously, if either of the pieces of currently pending legislation are adopted by the United States Congress, the benefit for fraternities and sororities could be enormous.