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Desegregation coin nears goal

Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation of American public schools moved a step closer to reality Dec. 18 when the House passed the Senate version of the Little Rock commemorative silver dollar program, clearing the measure to go to President George W. Bush for signature.
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Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation of American public schools moved a step closer to reality Dec. 18 when the House passed the Senate version of the Little Rock commemorative silver dollar program, clearing the measure to go to President George W. Bush for signature.

Action came in a rare Sunday session for the House which, like the Senate, has been dealing with many clean-up measures before the first session of the 109th Congress is gavelled to an end, presumptively just before the Christmas recess. The second session is slated to convene in January.

Against all odds, the proposal moved without the active support of the Treasury Department, and the rest of the Executive Branch, including the U.S. Mint. It lacked a recommendation in its favor by the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee and probably also lacks a ready audience to buy into the commemoration.

But it has widespread congressional support. The House has 321 co-sponsors; the Senate bill has 71 co-sponsors. The goal is to create a coin commemorating the 50th anniversary in 2007 of the legal end of American school segregation. H.R. 358 and its Senate counterpart, S. 582, ? the Little Rock Central High School Desegregation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act ? seeks to mark the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock High School by the issuance of a silver dollar commemorative coins in 2007.

Surcharges on the sale of the coins would be paid to the Secretary of the Interior for use in efforts to protect, preserve and interpret resources and stories associated with the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. A Senate amendment allows prior expenditures at the site to count against a matching fund requirement.

Surcharges on the coin?s sales would fund educational and preservation efforts at the site. Congressional action is necessary to authorize the striking and sale of commemoratives by the Mint.

Under the legislation, the Secretary of the Treasury is required to mint and issue not more than 500,000 $1 coins emblematic of the desegregation of the Little Rock Central High School and its contribution to civil rights in America, beginning Jan. 1, 2007. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says ?Sales proceeds from the coins that would be authorized by S. 582 could raise as much as $5 million in surcharges if the Mint sells the maximum number of authorized coins.?

The CBO points out, however, that recent experience with coin sales by the Mint suggests that receipts would be about $1.5 million. Those receipts would be recorded in the budget as offsetting receipts (a credit against direct spending), mostly in fiscal year 2007. By law, the Mint must ensure that it does not lose money producing commemorative coins before transferring surcharges to a designated organization. CBO expects that receipts from the surcharges would be transferred and spent by the National Park Service in fiscal year 2008.

On Sept. 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School when President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Army Infantry Division (Airborne) to escort them and to enforce the order of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education.

In 1998, at a White House Ceremony, President Clinton signed into law a bill, sponsored by Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), establishing Little Rock Central High School as a National Historic Site.

The integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine in 1957 was the most prominent national example of the implementation of the Brown decision, and served as a catalyst for the integration of other, previously segregated public schools in the United States.

The Omnibus Appropriations Bill signed into law by President Clinton in October 1998, authorized the President to present, on behalf of Congress, a Congressional Gold Medal to each of the Little Rock Nine: Jean Brown Trickey, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Jefferson Thomas.

The award was made at the White House in recognition of the Little Rock Nine as civil rights pioneers whose selfless acts considerably advanced the civil rights debate in this country.

H.R. 358 was introduced by Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) on Jan. 25. A fourth-term member who ran last time without any opposition, he and 19 colleagues who co-sponsored the measure saw little likelihood of success ? except that co-sponsors kept signing on and on and on.

On 14 separate occasions, new co-sponsors were added until more than 320 were received ? nearly three-quarters of the members of the House. On April 27, the subcommittee was discharged and the full Committee had a markup session; by voice vote, it reported the measure.

June 15 saw issuance of a report (as amended) by the Committee on Financial Services and it was then referred sequentially to the House Committee on Ways and Means for a period ending not later than June 17, 2005.

That same day, the Committee on Ways and Means was discharged and the matter placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 82. Meanwhile, on June 9, the Senate Banking Committee held its own markup and reported the measure out in amended form, also readying for passage.

Without measuring the demand for such a coin, without considering the national medal that it approved honoring the Little Rock Nine just six years ago and without even contemplating how a theme of desegregation is depicted, or even asking the Citizens Coinage advisory committee if the issuance was a good idea, Congress has exercised its constitutional prerogative and has moved towards authorizing a coin issue.

If the Congressional Budget Office is correct, the issue will be another in a long list of box-office failures, selling just about or near 150,000 coins of the 500,000 coins authorized. It may be the best theme in the world for a commemorative, or the worst, but there?s no market research to support issuance or suppressing the coining.

Regardless, both the House and Senate passed the measure on the consent calendar and the measure now goes to the president for signature, which is all but assured.