Republican senator-elect plans to re-introduce conservative agenda

RENO, Nev. - Republican John Ensign says he'll hit the floor running in the Senate, resuming the conservative agenda he pushed in the House and working to reverse GOP leadership's backing of a nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., a proponent of the proposed dump at Yucca Mountain, mentioned the nuclear issue when he called to congratulate Ensign on his election victory this week.

''He jokingly said 'I guess we didn't want nuclear waste coming to Nevada anyway,''' Ensign said.

''He said they probably couldn't accomplish that anyway now that I'm going to be there,'' the former two-term congressman said.

''He was saying it jokingly, but I hope he was serious, too.''

Democrats argued the best way to keep nuclear waste out of Nevada was to elect more Democrats because they have taken the lead in recent years in turning back GOP-sponsored bills to build the site at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Ensign maintained the best strategy was to elect a Republican who could help make the case among GOP faithful on Capitol Hill while senior Democratic Sen. Harry Reid continued to keep his own partisan troops in line.

''Now we'll have a Nevadan in the same room with the Republicans when these discussions are held,'' Ensign said.

Aides to Lott in Washington D.C. said he was traveling in Mississippi and could not be reached immediately for comment.

Ensign, who served in the House from 1994-1998, said he's optimistic he will be able to persuade Lott and others to consider alternatives, including new recycling technologies.

''I've talked to him ad nauseum. He knows how important it is,'' Ensign said.

Opposition to the proposed dump played prominently in Nevada's Senate campaign, with Democrats insisting President Clinton, Al Gore and other members of their party were the ones responsible for keeping the site from being built at Yucca Mountain.

The issue even made its way into ads for the presidential candidates in Nevada.

''I don't know of any other state that had local commercials about a local issue in the presidential race. We had nuclear waste ads running in the presidential race, which is good,'' Ensign said.

Gore had promised to veto the same Yucca Mountain bill that Clinton did, and George W. Bush pledged to reject any proposed site that wasn't scientifically defensible.

But Democratic Sens. Bryan and Harry Reid said key Senate Republicans - including Pete Domenici of New Mexico - predicted the site would be built within six months of Bush becoming president.

Reid expects Bush will prevail in a recount and fears the worst in regard to Yucca Mountain.

''It is going to be very difficult to stop it,'' Reid said Thursday.

''I've got a lot of concerns. That is way high on the list,'' Reid said about a possible Bush administration.

Ensign said he doesn't think the issue of the waste dump played any role in the outcome of the Senate race.

Ensign said he's had discussions with staff and others about his legislative priorities and expects to quickly introduce a bill aimed at cutting costs of prescription drugs for seniors.

''We've got several pieces of legislation already from when I was in the House that I want to reintroduce in the Senate, like our crime bill. We talked about trying to do some lands bills for around the state, public lands bills,'' Ensign said.

Among other things, Ensign's crime bill would require federal prison inmates to work 50 hours a week. Under the proposal, one-third of the money would be used to offset the cost of incarceration and one-third would go to a victim restitution fund.

About 23 percent would go to justice systems in states and local jurisdictions that adopt similar guidelines and 10 percent would go into a savings account for the prisoner.

Ensign also wants to ban from prison cells televisions, VCRs, sexually explicit materials and music with lyrics that are ''violent, sexually explicit, vulgar, glamorize gangs, demean women or disrespect the law.''

He would allow televisions in group settings, but only educational programs.

His bill also would confine prisoners to their cells for 23 hours a day unless they agreed to participate in a boot camp program with hard labor, physical training and strict discipline with ''ceremony characteristic of military basic training.''


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