WASHINGTON -- In one of the first actions by the new Congress that convened last week, the House passed bills aimed at combating wage discrimination against women.
Democratic sponsors said the legislation would close loopholes that limit a worker's ability to sue employers for restitution and punitive damages in wage disparity cases.
The bills were selected by House leaders as the first ones of consequence to be passed after Democrats widened their House majority by 79 seats in the November elections.
Critics said the measures would subject businesses to frivolous lawsuits and was a favor to trial lawyers who handle such cases.
One bill, passed 247-171, would change the statute of limitations on wage discrimination suits.
It was named after Lily Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who lost a 2007 Supreme Court case. Justices ruled 5-4 that workers must sue within 180 days of receiving their first discriminatory paycheck, which shut out Ledbetter who discovered the issue only after years of employment by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against it.
A second bill would eliminate the cap on most damages in pay discrimination suits, and shift the burden of proof to employers in such cases.
It passed 256-163. Berkley and Titus voted for the bill. Heller voted against it.
NEW RULES PASSED
Democrats tightened their control of the House last week by pushing through several changes to internal rules.
Committee chairmen no longer are limited to six years. Another change would make it harder for Republicans to offer alternatives to Democratic bills. Also, critics said the "pay-as-you-go" requirement that new spending must be balanced by cuts elsewhere was diluted.
Republicans cried foul, arguing the new rules were a power grab that was not consistent with President-elect Barack Obama's pledge for bipartisanship. But Democrats argued that term limits for chairmen merely created frantic scrambling as climbers perpetually tried to position themselves to move up.
As far as the budget changes, they argued that flexibility is important as Congress responds to the economic crisis.
Democrats prevailed on the rules changes on a largely party-line vote, 242-181. Berkley and Titus voted for the changes. Heller voted against it.
LIBRARY DISCLOSURES ORDERED
Voting 388-31, the House passed a bill requiring charities set up to build presidential libraries to make public their financial supporters.
The public disclosure bill aimed to shed light on a practice that Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., said carried an "enormous potential for abuse."
There are few restrictions on fundraising for presidential libraries, which are allowed to accept large donations from corporations and foreign nations among others.
The bill stemmed from the revelation earlier this decade that President Bill Clinton's library foundation had accepted a large contribution from the former wife of convicted financier Marc Rich, who received a pardon on Clinton's final day in office.
Foundations raising library funds would have to make quarterly reports of donors who give $200 or more.
The bill is not retroactive, so it won't impact the library planned for President George W. Bush at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Berkley, Titus and Heller voted for the bill.
Contact Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia .com or 202-783-1760.