After revising key sections of the Federal Trade Commission reauthorization bill, the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday approved a much less controversial version of the measure than the one passed last year.
Major changes in the legislation include dropping a provision allowing the secretary of Agriculture to veto FTC complaints about agricultural cooperatives, removing a blanket exemption for professionals from FTC rulemaking and lifting a provision that blocked the FTC from taking action against advertisers on charges of "unfairness."
An amendment proposed by Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.) to limit the amount of civil penalities awarded in FTC cases to $1 million was defeated on a tie vote.
The provision allowing the FTC to rule on "unfair" advertising practices on a case-by-case basis squeaked through the committee on a vote of 8 to 7.
The bill also requires the commission to notify the secretary of Agriculture before issuing a complaint against a farm co-op and lets the Agriculture Department intervene in such cases.
The anticipated debate over provisions prohibiting the FTC from making rules governing professions never occurred.
The committee's version is a compromise worked out by FTC Chairman James C. Miller III and the American Medical Association, which lobbied vigorously last year for a total exemption of professionals from FTC rulemaking. The American Bar Association adopted a resolution at its convention in Atlanta yesterday urging that lawyers also be exempted. Committee member Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) may offer an amendment exempting lawyers when the bill goes to the Senate floor.
The bill also for the first time writes into law a definition of what "unfairness" the FTC can take action against. Four of the five FTC members endorsed that action, which codifies a commission letter outlining its policy on unfair practices, said an FTC official.
The committee skipped over the issue of the legislative veto power over FTC actions. Staffers said the panel will delay that question until after the August recess to give the Justice Department more time to clarify Congress' possible options in the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision knocking down the legislative veto.