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Congress revamps
page program

Congress revamps
page program

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday overhauled the board that supervises its teenage pages, responding to a scandal that left youngsters vulnerable to a lawmaker's sexual come-ons and helped Democrats win control of Congress.

The vote was 416-0 to equalize the political membership of the House Page Board, whose Republican chairman never told two board colleagues that he believed-- for a year--that Rep. Mark Foley was a ''ticking time bomb.''

The expanded board also will include a former page and the parent of a current or former page, who will add new pairs of eyes to spot any future examples of misconduct.

Pages are high school students who run errands for lawmakers while learning about Congress, attending a congressionally run high school, and living in a supervised dormitory.

Members of the page board, part of a congressional network serving as surrogate parents, also would meet regularly under the legislation.

Foley, a Florida Republican, resigned September 29, and polls showed the scandal was a factor in the November election, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Foley became acquainted with the teenagers while they worked in Congress and kept in touch after they left --sending some overly friendly e-mails and others sexually explicit computer messages.

In remarks before the vote, lawmakers expressed anger that the past board chairman, Republican congressman John Shimkus of Illinois, failed to convene the board when he learned in the fall of 2005 that Foley had sent overly friendly e-mails to a former Louisiana page.

Frozen out were representatives Dale Kildee, a Michigan Democrat who is the new board chairman, and Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who will remain on the board. Both said they learned of Foley's conduct only when he resigned and the matter became public. They were cosponsors of the newly approved changes.

The House Ethics Committee, in a December report on the scandal, said that after Foley resigned, Shimkus told Capito ''that he believed he had done the right thing in 2005 based on the information he had, but added words to the effect of Dale's [Representative Kildee] a nice guy, but he's a Democrat, and I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion.''

The report also said that the House clerk, Jeff Trandahl, warned Shimkus that Foley was a ''ticking time bomb'' who had been confronted repeatedly about his conduct with pages.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a California Democrat who chairs the Committee on House Administration, alluded to Shimkus's actions in remarks to the House prior to the vote, although his name was not mentioned. ''The board must not only be free of partisanship but must function so all of the members have access'' to allegations of misconduct, she said.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, senior Republican on the administration committee, also took a slap at Shimkus, saying the failure to convene the page board to deal with Foley ''made the problem even worse.''

Shimkus did not make any remarks on the floor, but he voted for the changes. His office staff said he did not want to comment.

The House legislation resolution expands the board membership to eight, including the former page and the parent. There also would be four House members--two each from the Democratic and Republican parties--as well as the clerk of the House and the sergeant-at-arms, who are permanent members. The board previously had five members: three lawmakers--two from the majority party--plus the clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

''We look forward to operating the page program in an effective manner,'' Kildee said. The new board, he added, will ensure ''the well-being of the young people who serve this House as pages.''

Capito said the equal representation ''takes it out of the political realm. There's no way there should be a partisan upper hand when talking about the governance of the page board.''

She said she recalled only two or three meetings since joining the board in March 2005. Having a parent and former page gives the board ''another set of eyes and ears'' if a problem develops, she added. (AP)

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