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House votes to restructure supervisory board for pages

Changes made following Foley e-mail scandal

WASHINGTON -- The House yesterday overhauled the board supervising its teenage pages, responding to a scandal that left youths vulnerable to a lawmaker's sexual overtures and contributed to the Democrats winning control of Congress.

The vote was 416 to 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 Representative Mark Foley was a "ticking time bomb."

The expanded board will also include a former page and the parent of a current or former page, to help spot any future examples of misconduct.

Pages are high school students who run errands for lawmakers while learning about Congress. They attend a congressionally run high school and live in a supervised dormitory.

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

Foley, a Florida Republican, resigned Sept. 29. Polls indicated that 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 -- sending some of them 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, Republican of Illinois, did not convene the board when he learned in the fall of 2005 that Foley had sent overly friendly e-mails to a former page from Louisiana.

Frozen out were Representatives Dale Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, the new board chairman, and Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who will remain on the board.

Both said they learned of Foley's conduct when he resigned and the matter became public. They were co sponsors of the newly approved changes.

In a report on the scandal issued in December, the House Ethics Committee 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 [ Kildee] a nice guy, but he's a Democrat, and I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion."

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

Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald, Democrat of California, chairwoman of 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.

Representative Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, senior Republican on the Administration Committee, also condemned Shimkus, saying that not convening 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 he did not want to comment.

The House legislation resolution would expand the board membership to eight, including the former page and the parent. There would also be four House members -- equally divided by party -- 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 -- two from the majority -- 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."