The House on Friday overhauled the board supervising 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ for a year Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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, to 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, R-Fla., resigned Sept. 29, and polls showed the scandal was a factor in Republicans losing control of the House in November.
The former lawmaker became acquainted with the teenagers while they worked in Congress, and kept in touch after they left Ã¢â‚¬â€ sending some overly friendly e-mails and others, sexually explicit instant computer messages.
In remarks before the vote, lawmakers expressed anger that the past board chairman, John Shimkus, R-Ill., 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 Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., the new board chairman, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who will remain on the board.
Both said they learned of Foley’s conduct when he resigned and his conduct became public. They were co-sponsors 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 (Rep. 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, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on House Administration, alluded to Shimkus’ 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, R-Mich., senior Republican on the Administration committee, also took a slap at Shimkus Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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 voted for the changes. His office said the lawmaker 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ equally divided by party Ã¢â‚¬â€ as well as the clerk of the House and the sergeant-at-arms, who are permanent members.
The previous board had five members: three lawmakers Ã¢â‚¬â€ two from the majority Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press