Democratic congressional candidate Kenley Brunsdale has accused GOP Rep. Jim Hansen of dragging his feet in co-sponsoring legislation to compensate Utah victims of open-air nuclear testing.
But Hansen's office says the congressman sponsored a similar bill two years ago and was an original co-sponsor of the one that passed the House this week."It's political hype," said Hansen campaign manager Peter Jenks. "Kenley Brunsdale doesn't care about victims of radiation compensation. He just cares about the political mileage he can make on the issue."
The bill establishes a fund of up to $100 million in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico to compensate victims of atmospheric testing from 1945-1963.
Brunsdale claims Hansen was reluctant to sign on as a co-sponsor when the bill was drafted in March 1989 by Utah Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens.
Brunsdale, who was Owens' administrative assistant at the time, said he called Hansen in his role to line up co-sponsors and Hansen refused.
"It was only after Wayne talked to him and reminded him that it was a bipartisan issue and these are his (Hansen's) constituents that he signed on," Brunsdale said. "He did not lift a finger."
Hansen's aides denied he balked at co-sponsoring the bill and said the only reason Owens was the chief sponsor was to show unity in the Utah delegation after Hansen's 1988 bill failed to get out of committee.
As a member of the majority party, Owens could muscle the bill through committees while Hansen worked behind the scenes to line up GOP votes, said Rick Guldan, Hansen's spokesman.
"To say we were lacking effort on this is ludicrous," Guldan said, adding that Hansen submitted the earlier bill after he and Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, held field hearings on possible radiation exposure.
"The important thing is the bill passed and it passed with Jim's support from day one," he said. "We didn't do this for headlines. We did it for the people of southern Utah."
Hansen spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday when the House suspended the rules and shipped it through to the Senate on a voice vote.
"In his floor speech, Hansen was very gracious to compliment Mr. Owens' efforts," Guldan said. "It's a thankless task and difficult to get legislation through."
The bill faces opposition, however, in the Senate, where it is being sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Brunsdale said Hatch, unlike Hansen, deserves praise from the beginning.
"He's fighting a tough fight and I appreciate him," Brunsdale said.