With no action by baseball, steroids bill re-introduced
WASHINGTON -- Aiming to spur baseball and other sports to adopt tougher steroids policies, Sens. Jim Bunning and John McCain are reintroducing legislation that would standardize drug testing and penalties for professional leagues.
The new bill combines two already proposed separately by Bunning, a Kentucky Republican who was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1996, and McCain, an Arizona Republican. Bunning, a former major league pitcher, said the new legislation would be introduced Tuesday or Wednesday.
"We have heard a lot of talk from professional sports leagues that they would do something to clean up this mess, but so far it has been just that: a lot of talk," Bunning said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. "Hopefully Congress' action will light a fire under their feet to come to an agreement before we do it for them."
Like the earlier bills from Bunning and McCain, this one is based on the Olympic model, calling for a two-year suspension for an athlete who fails a steroids test for the first time and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Athletes would be tested at least five times a year, three during the season and two in the offseason. The proposal has a provision urging leagues to erase records achieved with the help of performance-enhancing drugs.
Three House bills with similar testing minimums and punishments have been proposed, including one sponsored by Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Government Reform Committee. That panel held the March 17 hearing with Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and baseball officials.
"If pro sports leagues don't get a handle on this problem on their own, members of Congress will be more than willing to do it for them," Davis spokesman Dave Marin wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "No matter which bill ultimately moves forward, one thing is certain: In the absence of self-initiated progress, legislation becomes a matter of when, not if."
During congressional hearings on steroids over the past eight months, the focus has been on baseball, and while Bunning's bill would also apply to the NFL, NBA and NHL, the timing of the reintroduction is tied to last week's end of the World Series.
Baseball currently suspends a player 10 days for a first offense. In April, commissioner Bud Selig called for a 50-game suspension after an initial positive test, a 100-game ban for second-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation.
Under questioning from McCain at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Sept. 28, baseball players union head Donald Fehr said he hoped a new steroids agreement could be reached by the end of the World Series.
"Well, the World Series has come and gone, and they still have not come to an agreement, so we're going to move ahead in Congress," Bunning said. "It's my opinion that Major League Baseball and the players union will not come to an agreement that's satisfactory."
Baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred issued a statement Tuesday reiterating Selig's stances: His proposed penalties would be appropriate, changes to the sport's policy should come through collective bargaining, and Selig would support legislation if baseball and the union can't reach agreement.
Fehr declined comment Tuesday, spokesman Greg Bouris said.
During the World Series, Selig and the union's chief operating officer, Gene Orza, said negotiations on a new steroids agreement were ongoing, but both refused to comment further. Last year, the union didn't go ahead with finalizing a new drug-testing agreement until after its annual executive board meeting in early December. This year's session is scheduled for Dec. 5-9 in Henderson, Nev.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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