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. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes voted.
The House on Wednesday passed legislation (HR 1402) blocking a Department of Agriculture plan to put federal milk policy on more of a free-market basis. The bill was backed by dairy farmers in eastern and southern states and opposed by food processing companies, consumer groups and farmers in the Upper Midwest. It shelves a planned USDA loosening of regulations set 62 years ago to protect dairy incomes and assure ample supplies. In part, it continues the existing pricing structure for milk marketing orders and retains price supports until at least 2001. A yes vote was to keep existing federal rules for pricing milk.
CLASS ACTION SUITS
The House on Thursday passed a bill (HR 1875) designed to shift most future class action suits from state to federal courts. U.S. judges now hear these suits only under strict diversity rules. This bill enables them to gain jurisdiction when one plaintiff and one defendant are from different states. It was backed by business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers. They argue that existing procedures overwhelmingly favor plaintiffs' lawyers, enabling them to "forum shop" for a friendly state court. But the American Trial Lawyers Association says the bill would make it more difficult for consumers to receive damage awards from corporations in areas such as health, safety and environmental litigation. A yes vote was to federalize most class action suits.
The House on Thursday rejected an amendment that sought to exempt suits against gun and ammunition manufacturers from a bill (HR 1875, above) that shifts most class action suits to federal courts. A yes vote was to keep existing class action rules for gun suits.
The House rejected an amendment to exempt cases against tobacco companies from a bill (HR 1875, above) that would give federal courts jurisdiction over most future class action suits. A yes vote was to retain state courts as the main venue for class actions against tobacco firms.
The Senate voted to block proposed rules that would require oil companies to pay higher royalties on oil drilled on federal property offshore and on land. U.S. law requires royalties on the "fair market value" of oil extracted from federal land, with proceeds split between the Treasury and the state where the drilling occurs. This vote enables companies to continue to base their royalties on the wellhead price of oil, not the market price as the Interior Department says the law requires. The vote occurred Thursday during debate on the department's fiscal 2000 budget (HR 2466). A yes vote was to block a plan to require higher royalties from oil companies.
The Senate on Thursday tabled (killed) an amendment to HR 2084 to terminate the AmeriCorps program by transferring its $225 million budget for fiscal 2000 to veterans' health programs. AmeriCorps members engage in one year of community service in return for federal education aid. A yes vote was to keep AmeriCorps in operation.