The following is a report of how some major bills fared last week in Congress and how Southern Maryland's representative, Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th District), and Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski voted.
The House approved the weaker of two competing proposals for requiring background checks on buyers at gun shows. Authored by John Dingell, D-Mich., the bill was supported by the National Rifle Association and opposed by Handgun Control Inc. It addressed a loophole that allows unlicensed dealers at weekend shows and flea markets to sell firearms without federal checks to determine whether the buyer has a criminal record. Under the Brady law, licensed dealers but not hobbyists and collectors must submit customers to federal checks, which can take as long as three business days. The Dingell amendment allotted 24 hours for checks, compared with three business days in a competing proposal (below) sponsored by Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. Dingell defined gun shows as events attended by at least 10 vendors selling 50 firearms, while McCarthy defined them as events with at least two vendors selling 50 firearms. The Dingell measure applied only to transactions completed at shows, thus exempting those that begin at a show but are completed elsewhere. A yes vote backed the Dingell plan for background checks at gun shows.
The House rejected the stricter of two amendments for requiring background checks on those who buy from unlicensed dealers at gun shows. It was sponsored by Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. It differed from a proposal (above) by John Dingell, D-Mich, by allowing law enforcement authorities three business days rather than 24 hours to complete a background check. It more broadly defined what constitutes a gun show, and applied to all transactions spawned by a show, not just those completed at the weekend event. A yes vote was to approve a gun show measure backed by Handgun Control, Inc.
The House adopted a GOP amendment providing harsher treatment of juveniles convicted of federal crimes involving guns, drugs and explosives. It was attached to a juvenile justice bill (HR 1501) that was later sent to House-Senate conference. In part, it gives prosecutors rather than judges the power to charge juveniles as adults; increases mandatory minimum penalties for juveniles convicted of possessing guns with the intent to take them to school or to commit a serious felony; defines a "street gang" as comprising at least three persons; toughens penalties for certain gang crimes; and increases mandatory minimum penalties on adult crimes involving the distribution of firearms and drugs to minors. A yes vote was to adopt the amendment.
The House defeated an amendment making it a crime to sell or provide certain types of "sexual or violent material" to youths under 17 years. The measure sought prison terms of up to five years for those who purvey "any picture, sculpture, video game, book, magazine, and other printed matter" defined as gratuitously violent to young people. Sponsors said it would be up to the courts to define illegal entertainment speech. The amendment was offered to a juvenile crime bill (HR 1501) that began moving through Congress after the Littleton, Colo., school shootings in April. A yes vote backed the amendment.
The House passed an amendment to a juvenile justice bill (HR 1501, above) leaving it up to states to decide whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed on state property including their schools. A yes vote backed the amendment.
Senators passed a bill limiting companies' liability in lawsuits arising from year 2000 computer glitches. The Y2K problem is expected to begin occurring later this year, with possibly catastrophic results, when some computers around the globe mistakenly read 2000 as the year 1900. This bill (HR 775) gives firms 90 days to remedy problems before a suit can be filed; caps punitive damages for companies of fewer than 50 employees at $250,000; limits a company's liability in proportion to its share of causing the problem; and makes it more difficult for plaintiffs to file class action suits. The law would expire after three years. A yes vote was to limit companies' liability.