Newspaper article Roll Call

Lautenberg's Legislative Legacy Was Consumer Friendly

Newspaper article Roll Call

Lautenberg's Legislative Legacy Was Consumer Friendly

Article excerpt

The death of Frank R. Lautenberg marks much more than the end of the Greatest Generation's time in the Senate. In addition to being the final World War II veteran in the place, and the longest- serving senator ever from New Jersey, Lautenberg was an anchor for the dwindling core of congressional Democrats who never wavered from vigorously promoting a robust role in regulating everyday life.

As a consequence, the legislative legacy he leaves behind is one of the longer and more noticeable ones of the past three decades, replete with measures that continue to have a consumer-friendly and tangible effect on commerce, transportation, the environment and public health.

More than any other member of Congress, Lautenberg was responsible for the cultural turn against cigarettes in public spaces. A former two-pack-a-day smoker, he was the driving force behind the 1989 law that banned smoking on domestic airline flights, and he subsequently led the crusade to restrict smoking in most federal buildings. He was instrumental as well in the congressional moves to stop ocean dumping, to increase the legal age for drinking age to 21 and to tighten the standards of what constitutes drunken driving.

He was the principal author of one of the most recent tangible increases in federal gun control, the law enacted 16 years ago barring anyone convicted of domestic violence, including spousal or child abuse, from possessing a firearm.

Lautenberg battled frequently and successfully to protect Amtrak, whose major Northeast route slices across his state. And he was a proponent of increased funding for aviation security long before the Sept. 11 attacks.

He used his recovery in 2010 from a cancerous tumor in his stomach as a testimonial for the promise of nearly universal medical insurance coverage. And he was an eager promoter of higher taxes on the rich as the best way to ease the deficit without shrinking the size of government. "You have to work on the fundamentals," he recently said. "Do you believe we are a society that puts humanity first, or puts accounting first?"

And while he had announced this winter, soon after his 89th birthday, that he wouldn't be running for a sixth term in 2014, he had laid out a vigorous legislative agenda for his remaining time in office. …

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