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Key legislation passes during busy week

By By SONNY CALLAHAN
U.S. Representative
Last week in our nation's capital was a busy and highly productive time. 
As members of both the House and Senate worked towards the traditional summer recess, members of both chambers considered and voted on several key pieces of legislation. Many of these bills represent an important part of the legislative agendas of both Congress and the administration.
I would like to take this opportunity to give you an update on two of these major bills.
Energy bill: a win for everyone
One of the key events to take place on Capitol Hill during our last week in session was the passage of H.R. 4, the Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) Act of 2001, by a vote of 240-189.
This bill, which held the support not only of members on both sides of the aisle, but also of a diverse coalition of interests ranging from organized labor to nuclear power companies, included many major portions of the energy plan submitted by the president earlier this year.
This is certainly a major policy victory for the president and represents another success in the ambitious legislative agenda that this administration has set forth during its first few months.
The passage of this bill also represents another in an increasing number of times when members from both sides of the aisle have demonstrated they can come together for the common good of the country.
Some of the high points
As I mentioned in this column just a few short months ago, the energy plan submitted by the president took a hard look at the problems facing this country. More importantly, it offered suggestions on how to prevent the nation from slipping into another 1970s-era energy crisis. 
I am very confident that the bill passed by the House goes a long way toward addressing these problems and directing us to possible solutions.
For instance, the SAFE Act includes $33.5 billion in tax incentives for individuals and businesses to improve conservation, reliability, and production.  It provides tax credits for individuals to install solar heating equipment, make energy efficiency improvements to their homes, and purchase hybrid motor vehicles. Tax credits for clean coal technologies and for production of non-conventional fuel sources are also included. 
Funds will be set aside for the conservation of our valuable natural resources and environment, as well as for the development of alternative and renewable power sources.
Finally, in a compromise designed to address the concerns of both industry and conservationists, an amendment was offered regarding the proposed petroleum exploration in Alaska's coastal plain. The drilling plan approved by the House will allow reasonable and environmentally sound exploration of a limited 2000 acre area.
The bill now moves to the other side of the Capitol for consideration by the Senate.  While my colleagues in the Senate will undoubtedly debate and argue the fine points of this legislation in as lively a manner as we did, I am hopeful that they, too, will craft a responsible and efficient version of this legislation.
Patients' rights bill passes
In another victory for President Bush last week, the House passed by a vote of 226-203 the first major legislation on the issue of managed care reform.
As most of you are aware, this issue is one that has drawn the attention of millions of Americans, health care providers, insurance companies, and any of a number of other groups with a role to play in the medical industry.
This bill includes several provisions to protect patients and consumers who are members of managed health care plans.
Patients who feel they have received less than proper care through their health plan would be able to pursue the matter through their state court system.
In addition, this legislation would allow patients to seek treatment at the closest available emergency room. Parents would have a much easier time obtaining pediatric appointments for their children, and women would have much better access to women's health specialists.
The bill would also create national standards governing lawsuits filed by patients against managed-care companies.
Finally, patients who believe they have been denied proper care would have the opportunity to have their complaints reviewed by a federally approved independent appeals board.
I know the issue of health care and patients' rights has been on many of your minds, and I have received many phone calls and letters requesting changes in the system. This bill represents a step in the right direction. 
Until next week, take care and God Bless.