Pay raise legislation pendingWASHINGTON -- When the second...

Newswatch . . .on federal workers slB

January 15, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON — Pay raise legislation pending

WASHINGTON -- When the second session of the 102nd Congress reconvenes next Wednesday, government employees will be keeping watch on pending legislation, including a measure that would grant pay raises of 8 percent above scale for workers in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The measure is intended to ease the burdens of federal workers who live in areas where the cost of living is high.

A staff member of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee said the bill, introduced by Maryland Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-8th, is unlikely to pass this session due to the dearth of government funds and because of its narrow geographical focus.

The measure has attracted only three co-sponsors -- Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, and two legislators from northern Virginia.

Insiders on Capitol Hill are skeptical that many of the bills affecting government workers will be passed by Congress in an election year. In order to finish their campaigns, lawmakers will try to adjourn by early October, the insiders say, probably leaving much of the work for the 103rd Congress, which convenes in January 1993.

Other pending bills that affect federal employees include:

* The Federal Employees Political Activities. This is one of the most high-profile measures. It would broaden the rights of federal employees to engage in political activities.

The bill would eliminate inconsistencies in the Hatch Act, such as a provision that allows a federal employee to attend political rallies but not carry a banner.

Similar reform measures in the past have been been approved by Congress then vetoed by the administration, a congressional staff member said. The bill's supporters are lobbying to get veto-proof support in both the House and Senate.

* Ethics in Government Act Amendments of 1991. This bill would partially reverse a law that bans the earning of honoraria by certain government employees.

Under the pending legislation, career employees would be allowed to accept fees for free-lance speaking and writing engagements. Non-career employees who earn more than $104,800 and members of Congress would remain subject to the ban.

The bill passed the House with bipartisan support last session, but remains stalled in the Senate where leaders seem to be waiting for the House to draft a new compromise version, according to Carl Schwartz, legislative director of the Federal Government Services Task Force.

President Bush has indicated he would sign the bill, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

* Federal Employees Health Benefits Reform Act of 1991. This bill would provide federal workers with more comprehensive health insurance coverage, including mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, preventive health care and other programs. The measure would also simplify the process of choosing an insurance plan by trimming the number of available policies. Currently, more than 20 plans are offered to federal workers in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The bill seems to be part of the general health insurance confusion engulfing Capitol Hill, where more than 30 health insurance bills are being developed. Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., the bill's sponsor, "will probably wait until all the ideas come in" before moving the bill out of his subcommittee, a congressional staff member said.

* Social Security Protection Act of 1991. This measure would take the Social Security Administration's administrative accounts out of the federal budget to protect them from potential cuts.

Different versions of the bill have passed the House and Senate but a conference committee has not yet met to reach a compromise version. Passage could be hampered by members of Congress who believe it would violate the budget agreement.

Bush has threatened to veto the measure.

* Federal Employees Fairness Act of 1991. This bill is designed to address age, sex and other forms of discrimination in the federal workplace. It would mandate guidelines for investigations of complaints and establish sanctions against agencies and supervisors who discriminate against their employees.

Under the measure, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would have final authority over discrimination cases. Currently that authority rests in the agency where the employee works.

A Post Office and Civil Service Committee staff member said the bill is a high priority for its sponsor, Rep. Gerry Sikorski, D-Minn., head of the subcommittee that approved the bill.

The measure should get through the House this session, the staff member said.

* Congressional Accountability Act of 1991. This bill would require Congress to start applying to congressional workers 12 civil rights and labor laws passed over the last 50 years.

* Federal Employees Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1991. This bill would establish strict occupational safety guidelines in federal workplaces and protect workers from retaliation for reporting violations.

Federal workplaces currently are exempt from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The bill is currently in subcommittee. Its future is linked to a broader-based bill, the Comprehensive Occupational Safety and Health Reform Act, which applies to all public workers, a Post Office and Civil Service Committee staff member said. The two bills may be combined later in the legislative process, the staff member said.

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