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U.S. senators revive bid to ratify U.N. disabilities treaty

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 27, 2013. REUTERS/
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 27, 2013. REUTERS/

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior U.S. senators revived a push on Tuesday to ratify a treaty to protect people with disabilities from discrimination, almost a year after Republican lawmakers blocked approval of the international pact.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called a hearing to address concerns about the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, during which some Republican lawmakers made strong appeals for more support from members of their party.

The U.N. pact was modeled on the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, which is designed to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities in employment as well as state and local government services.

"I don't know anyone who doesn't believe that the passage of that act is ... an unqualified success," said Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a strong supporter of the treaty and one of only eight Republicans who joined Senate Democrats in voting for it last year.

A Senate attempt to approve ratification in December 2012 failed by a vote of 61-38, five votes short of the 66 needed for ratification.

The Foreign Relations Committee is holding a second hearing on the treaty next week. The panel will then vote on the treaty at a separate business meeting before sending it to the full Senate for a vote.

Senator Jeff Flake, Arizona's other senator and a Foreign Relations Committee member, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the party's leader on the Foreign Relations panel, are among Republicans who analysts say could vote for the treaty this year.

Some religious conservatives in particular have raised objections to the treaty, saying it could expand abortion rights, threaten U.S. parental rights such the ability to teach children at home rather than send them to school, and impinge on local sovereignty.

The treaty's backers dismissed many of those concerns as overblown. "Ratifying this treaty will not mean bureaucrats in Europe will determine how many parking spots are in your church's parking lot as some have claimed," Menendez said.

The pact was defeated last year despite a passionate plea by Republican former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who was severely wounded during World War Two and watched the vote from a wheelchair.

Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire read another appeal from Dole at Tuesday's hearing.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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