State Laws/Franchising

House Aide: Bush Unlikely to Sign Franchise Law

4/25/2006 4:52 AM Eastern

Las Vegas -- Due to complications in the Senate and a short legislative calendar, an aide to House Energy and Commerce Committee member Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio) predicted Monday that cable-franchise-reform legislation will not reach the White House this year -- even though one month ago, committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) was willing to bet that President Bush would sign a bill in the fall.

"My handicap is that it passes through the House but it won't be signed into law and we'll have to continue it in the 110th Congress," said Ryan Walker, Gillmor's senior legislative assistant.

On Wednesday, Barton's committee is expected to approve legislation that would allow phone companies to offer cable-TV service without permission from local governments. By allowing the Federal Communications Commission to award national cable franchises, Barton's bill would eliminate a cornerstone of cable regulation that Congress established in 1984.

Walker, speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters convention here, said Barton's bill would encounter problems in the Senate, where aides to Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are drafting a more wide-ranging telecommunications bill.

"We have a great bill, but Sen. Stevens has a really comprehensive bill. Working with [the Senate], there's always a possibility that we could get something signed into law this year," Walker said. "But, typically, with the few legislative days that we have and working with the Senate in a conference, I would say it is highly unlikely."

Members of Congress are expected to adjourn in early October to head home to campaign for re-election. The final weeks of the legislative session are usually devoted to spending bills and other national priorities, chief among them Iraq-war funding, immigration reform and new lobbying restrictions.

Last month, Barton offered to bet reporters on a conference call that a version of his bill would become law this year.

“I am a pretty good poker player, and I'd say the odds are 2-1 that the president is going to sign a bill this year,” Barton said. “Obviously, it's going to be modified and amended, but I think it has real power and I believe the president will sign a version very close to this bill sometime this calendar year.”