WASHINGTON – Here’s how Maine’s members of Congress were recorded on major roll call votes in the week ending April 11.

HOUSE Gun immunity

Voting 285 for and 140 against, the House on April 9 passed a bill (HR 1036) giving gun manufacturers and dealers immunity against most product-liability lawsuits based on the illegal use of firearms. Plaintiffs in such suits are mainly state and local governments and crime victims. The bill, which would ban pending as well as future suits, awaits Senate action.

James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said these suits are “brazen attempts to accomplish through litigation what has not been achieved by…the democratic process…” and are aimed at “bankrupting the national firearms industry and denying all Americans their fundamental right to bear arms.”

Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said: “We should all agree that those who have been in accidents caused by Firestone tires have the right to their day in court. If Firestone had provisions similar to (this bill), Americans whose families were either killed or injured (by guns) would lose their right and there would be no recourse.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Rep. Tom Allen, D, voted no. Rep. Michael Michaud, D, voted yes.

Pending suits

The House on April 9 refused, 140 for and 282 against, to strip HR 1036 (above) of provisions that would void pending suits against the gun industry. Backers said retroactivity made the bill an unconstitutional ex post facto measure. Others said the Supreme Court allows retroactivity in the interests of the U.S. economy.

Melvin Watt, D-N.C., called the legislation “an ex post facto law, which we think would make (it) unconstitutional.”

James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said: “The Supreme Court has held that Congress can require that pending lawsuits can be dismissed if…pursuant to a national economic policy,” such as saving the gun industry from bankruptcy.

A yes vote opposed retroactivity.

Allen voted yes. Michaud voted no.

Standard of proof

The House on April 9 rejected, 134 for and 289 against, an amendment making it easier to sue the gun industry for allowing drug addicts or the mentally ill to obtain a gun. Supporters said the amendment would prompt dealer diligence in conducting background checks, while foes said the bill already had adequate protection against sales to the addicted and deranged. The bill allows liability in cases where the manufacturer or dealer “knowingly and willfully” arms a prohibited individual. The amendment lowered the standard to a “reasonable cause to believe” the gun would end up in the wrong hands.

A yes vote opposed the amendment.

Allen voted yes. Michaud voted no.

Conflict diamonds

Voting 419 for and two against, the House on April 8 passed a bill (HR 1584) requiring U.S. participation in an international agreement designed to block the marketing of “conflict diamonds,” which are illegally mined gems used to finance civil wars in Africa. The bill, which awaits Senate action, requires full U.S. involvement in an international pact to ban diamond imports not certified as legitimate.

Sander Levin, D-Mich., said the bill was designed to insure that “gems that have fueled decades-long wars and atrocities in Africa are not imported into the United States.”

No member spoke in opposition.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Allen and Michaud voted yes.


Charitable giving

Voting 95 for and five against, the Senate on April 8 passed a bill (S 476) enabling persons who do not itemize on their tax return to make deductible contributions to charities including religious groups. The deduction is available for up to $250 annually over the first $250 in such contributions. The bill, which awaits House action, also provides tax incentives to spur the donation of items such as food, books, computers and rolled-over Individual Retirement Accounts.

The bill scales back President Bush’s “faith-based initiative” by omitting his request that Congress expand the eligibility of religious groups to participate in federal programs. The bill expands Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), which benefit low-income individuals who start savings accounts for buying a home or business or paying for higher education. Banks would receive tax credits of up to $500 per account for their matching contributions to a customer’s IDA.

Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said that while the bill “is not everything the president requested” in a faith-based initiative, “it certainly gets at one of the most important components” by funding charities.

Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he was “struggling with this bill” over the issue of tax breaks that keep land out of private ownership (next issue).

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Sen. Susan Collins, R, voted yes. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R, voted yes.

Tax breaks

Voting 62 for and 38 against, the Senate on April 9 upheld an existing tax break that reduces capital gains on certain sales or gifts of land or conservation easements to preservation trusts. The vote occurred during debate on S 476 (above). It killed an amendment to expand the tax break for land donations to a wide range of charities, not just those devoted to conservation.

Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said: “They are not making any more land, and if we do not preserve sensitive wetlands and open space from development, it will be lost forever….”

Don Nickles, R-Okla., said: “If we are going to encourage charitable sales, let’s do it for all of them, not just conservation groups.”

A yes vote opposed a broadening of the land-conservation tax break.

Collins and Snowe voted yes.

Budget plan

With Vice-President Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate on April 11 approved, 51-50, the conference report on a 10-year budget allowing $550 billion for the president’s latest round of tax cuts. For 2004, it sets $2.23 trillion in spending and a $385 billion deficit. (SCR 23)

A yes vote was to adopt the budget.

Collins and Snowe voted yes.

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