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. Congress is in Independence Day recess until July 12.
DAY OF PRAYER
The House defeated a bill urging federal, state and local officials to call for a national day of "prayer, fasting and humiliation" to heal America in the wake of school shootings and murderous hate crimes against blacks and gays. The vote count failed to reach the two-thirds needed to pass the measure (H Con Res 94) under a shortcut parliamentary procedure. A yes vote urged Congress to call for a national day of prayer.
The House passed a bill (HR 1218) making it a federal crime to transport a minor to another state for an abortion in order to evade parental consent and notification laws in the girl's home state. More than 20 states have laws requiring consent by at least one parent, or a judge, before an abortion can be legally performed on a minor. The bill provides an exception in cases where the abortion is necessary to save the girl's life. A yes vote was to pass the bill.
YEAR 2000 SUITS
The House approved the conference report on a bill (HR 775) curbing liability in suits involving Year 2000 computer breakdowns. While many computers are being reprogrammed to correct the error, many others around the globe are expected to break down on or about Jan. 1, 2000. The bill limits punitive damages against companies with 50 or fewer employees to $250,000 or three times actual damages, whichever is lower; requires class action suits with at least 100 plaintiffs and $10 million in claims, or which seek punitive damages, to be litigated in federal court; gives companies a 90-day grace period to fix problems before suits can be filed; and links a company's financial liability to its share of causing the problem. The measure, which would expire after three years, puts no limit on personal injury claims. A yes vote supported limiting liability.
The House voted to praise those mainly responsible for military victory in Yugoslavia. Offered during discussion of a military spending bill (S 1059), the motion lauded U.S. service personnel and their families; President Clinton, Defense Secretary William Cohen, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, and Gens. Henry Shelton and Wesley Clark; NATO allies, and front-line states such as Albania and Macedonia, "which experienced firsthand the instability produced by . . . Yugoslavia's policy of ethnic cleansing." A yes vote was to hail military victory in Yugoslavia.
The House passed a bill (HR 10) permitting banks, insurance companies, securities brokers and other financial firms to combine into holding companies and offer a full range of products to businesses and consumers. The bill effectively repeals laws such as the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that have prevented or restrained most forms of direct competition among key sectors of the money industry. Although the bill takes steps to protect the privacy of customers' financial and health records and to require that lending institutions provide credit to low-income neighborhoods, critics called it fatally flawed on both counts. The Federal Reserve Board and Treasury Department would share primary regulation of the newly structured U.S. banking system, with the Securities and Exchange Commission and state insurance authorities continuing to regulate, respectively, commerce in securities and insurance. A yes vote was to pass the bill.
The House rejected a Democratic plan to add stricter anti-discrimination and privacy language to HR 10 (above). The proposal sought to prohibit insurance companies from "red-lining," or denying coverage to targeted Zip codes, just as banks cannot discriminate on the basis of the applicant's neighborhood in providing loans. It placed more restrictions than the bill already contained on the sharing of customers' medical and financial records among the different elements of a financial holding company and with telemarketers. A yes vote backed the Democratic proposal.
TRAVEL TO CUBA
The Senate voted to retain a 39-year-old ban on unrestricted American travel to Cuba. The U.S. government prohibits general tourist visits to the Communist state while allowing limited travel by journalists, government officials, humanitarian workers and others. The vote occurred as the Senate passed a $12.7 billion foreign affairs spending bill (S 1234) for fiscal 2000. A yes vote was to restrict American travel to Cuba.
The Senate failed to end a filibuster mounted by Democrats to promote their legislation for increased regulation of managed-care health plans. Republicans fell short of the 60-vote majority needed to move to debate on the fiscal 2000 agriculture appropriations bill (S 1233). GOP leaders later agreed to allow votes this month on Democratic HMO legislation. A yes vote was to end Democratic stalling action against a farm spending bill.
The Senate confirmed the nomination of Lawrence H. Summers, 44, as secretary of the Treasury. The former Harvard University professor of economics was sworn in the next day to succeed Robert E. Rubin. A yes vote backed Summers as the 71st secretary of the Treasury.
YEAR 2000 PROBLEM
The Senate sent to President Clinton a bill (HR 775) providing companies with limited protection over the next three years against lawsuits based on Year 2000 computer malfunctions. The bill puts no limits on suits based on physical harm caused when a computer system mistakenly reads the year 2000 as 1900. But for firms with 50 or fewer employees, it limits punitive damages to three times actual damages of $250,000, whichever is lower. The bill also limits a firm's liability to its share of blame in causing the problem, narrows terms for filing class action suits and directs most such suits into federal court, and gives companies 90 days to remedy a problem before litigation can begin. A yes vote supported limited protection for companies.
The Senate failed to table (kill) an amendment to prohibit federal workers' health plans from paying for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life is at stake. The vote kept the anti-abortion provision in a $27.2 billion fiscal 2000 appropriations bill (S 1282) for the Treasury Department, Postal Service and other agencies. A yes vote was to permit abortion coverage in civil servants' health plans.