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California and the West

'Do-Nothing' Congress Doesn't Apply to State's Delegation

Politics: Members introduce a cornucopia of bills ranging from food safety to breast-feeding in national parks.

July 18, 1999|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) is fighting for the right of mothers to breast-feed their babies at national parks.

Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-San Diego) seeks to require that the window sticker on every new car sold in America tells consumers how much the vehicle pollutes.

And Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Riverside) is pushing to rewrite the Endangered Species Act because of what he sees as unreasonable government demands to protect the Delphi Sands flower-loving fly, Quino checkerspot butterfly and other species.

Who says it's a do-nothing Congress?

California's 52-member House delegation is pursuing a cornucopia of causes in the 106th Congress, ranging from efforts to ensure safer food to the "Zzzs to A's Act," which would encourage high schools to set later starting times more "in sync with teenagers' body clocks," as the measure puts it.

Lawmakers, of course, can introduce as many bills as their staffs can draft, but getting one passed is another matter. House and Senate members introduced 7,532 bills in the 105th Congress, but only 404 became law.

Legislation introduced by the state's House members covers global matters--such as debt relief for sub-Saharan African countries--as well as local concerns, such as aircraft noise at Burbank Airport.

Several of the delegation's 24 Republicans have introduced or co-sponsored bills that contain the main elements of the House GOP leadership's tax cut package--a 10% across-the-board cut in income tax rates, easing of the so-called marriage penalty and a phaseout of the estate tax.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), a space enthusiast, is pushing a "zero gravity, zero tax" proposal that would grant businesses tax-free income from new products developed in space. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) is seeking a tax credit for film production in the United States to stem the flight of movie making to other countries. And Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) is seeking to allow "servers" to receive up to $10,000 a year in tips tax-free.

Bill Aims to Improve Teenagers' Alertness

Teenagers are the subject of a bill by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) that would encourage high schools to start classes after 9 a.m. "so that teens are in school during their most alert hours and can achieve their full academic potential."

A bill by Rep. James Rogan (R-Glendale) seeks to allocate $1 billion nationwide to provide drug testing--with parental consent--and counseling of students in grades 9 through 12.

Several California lawmakers are seeking changes in the Endangered Species Act--including some that environmentalists say would weaken the law.

Calvert, who has battled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over what he considers unreasonable demands on property owners in his district, has introduced four bills--including the "Stop Taking Our Property Act."

Food also is a concern of California lawmakers.

Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) introduced the Produce Consumers' Right-to-Know Act to mandate country-of-origin labels on imported fruits and vegetables. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Atherton) introduced the Imported Food Safety Improvement Act to require that imported food meet the same safety standards as U.S.-produced food. And Roybal-Allard introduced the Safe Food Act to establish an independent food safety agency.

Roybal-Allard also authored a measure to permit breast-feeding in national parks and museums after hearing about a confrontation between a breast-feeding mother and a security guard at one of the Smithsonian Institution's museums.

The guard told the woman, "No food or drink is allowed in the museum," Roybal-Allard said.

Campaign fund-raising also is a common theme.

Rep. Tom Campbell's (R-San Jose) "Can't Vote, Can't Contribute" bill seeks to limit donations that House candidates can receive from people who live outside the district. Rep. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) is seeking to remove campaign contribution limits altogether and scrap public financing of presidential campaigns.

Other bills include one by Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) that would add South Korea to the list of 26 countries whose citizens can visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.

Miller also has offered the "Can Spam Act," which would protect Internet users from unsolicited e-mail.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), meanwhile, is seeking to prohibit murderers from receiving the Purple Heart. The measure was prompted by a complaint from a constituent whose family member was murdered by a veteran who applied for the medal after his conviction.

To introduce a bill, a member fills out a form from the House clerk and drops the bill in the "hopper," a wooden box in the House chamber. The bill is assigned to a committee--and is sometimes never heard about again.

The process dates back to the 19th century, but voters can employ more modern methods to keep tabs on their congressman by clicking on http://www.house.gov/.

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