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Mr. Gates Comes to Capitol Hill

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is giving his company’s lobbying outfit some extra juice today.

Gates, who is in town to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, plans to lobby the committee on immigration, worker training and other proposals he sees as necessary to keeping America’s economy competitive, said Microsoft spokeswoman Ginny Terzano. [IMGCAP(1)]

“Microsoft has really put an emphasis on worker retraining,” Terzano said. “People who have gotten laid off, some don’t have basic computer skills.” The company has donated money and software to train those workers on Microsoft programs such as Word and Excel.

Gates also will call for more visas for highly skilled foreign workers. “He’ll talk about how a lot of immigrants come to the United States to study but aren’t able to secure jobs,” she said. “He’ll talk about how America should really secure jobs for workers who want to stay in the U.S. no matter where their native country is.”

Gates is expected to touch on issues important to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation such as education reform and getting children interested in math and science. He also will meet privately with Members, Terzano said, declining to give names. Microsoft’s chief lobbyist Jack Krumholtz will accompany Gates during his visit to Capitol Hill.

Later today, Gates will give a speech at a Center for Democracy and Technology dinner.

Trading Firepower. The government of Peru is spending some serious cash in Washington, D.C. The country, which already has a roster of firms on retainer including the all-GOP Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock, wants a free-trade agreement between it and the United States to get across the finish line — a tougher prospect in the Democratic Congress. Now, Peru has added a team of lobbyists from Patton Boggs to join the fight.

The new lobbyists include former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), trade specialist Frank Samolis, legendary Democratic lobbyist Tom Boggs and four others at the firm. According to a contract filed with the Justice Department, Peru’s embassy has agreed to pay Patton Boggs $150,000 on April 1, plus a monthly retainer of $50,000.

The Bush administration already has signed a trade agreement with Peru’s government, but the measure requires Congressional approval. Labor and other critics have said the agreement, like others in the pipeline, needs to have stronger labor and environmental provisions.

Breaux and the Patton Boggs lobbyists plan to “open a dialogue with organized labor groups in the U.S. and Peru,” the contract stated. They also will schedule meetings with Members of Congress, executive branch officials and coordinate with the business community. Breaux and Samolis, in particular, will help Peru obtain “accurate insight and intelligence” to help assess “the political viability of our options,” the contract added.

Family Business. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) is poised to reintroduce a bill that is close to his heart. The measure would provide for competitive grants and scholarships to train future court reporters and closed captioners, who transcribe programs for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

It is a top legislative priority for the National Court Reporters Association, and the group has found an ally in Kind, whose wife, Tawni, is a court reporter.

“Right now I’m looking for a lead on the Republican side,” Kind said. “I’m not sure of the timing, but it will be soon.” A version of the bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). In previous years, the bill has passed the Senate, but not the House, and Kind said he expects the change in party control to be “helpful” to his cause.

Dave Wenhold, a lobbyist for the NCRA, said the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that all TV programs be captioned by 2006 but said there is a shortage of people going into the field. Wenhold said the bill has had bipartisan support but the challenge is “just about trying to get the funds to make it happen.”

Kind said he has seen “firsthand the severe shortages of court reporters” as a prosecutor and through his wife, who works for a judge in La Crosse, Wis. “It certainly has given me a unique perspective,” he said.

K Street Moves. Katherine Lugar has left the Washington, D.C., office of the Travelers Cos. to join the Retail Industry Leaders Association as senior vice president of government affairs. She also will run the trade association’s political action committee. Before her stint at Travelers, Lugar, a daughter-in-law of Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), was a lobbyist with the National Retail Federation. She also was a legislative aide for then-Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.).

• The United Spinal Association has tapped Peggy Hathaway, a former staff member on the Senate Finance Committee and one-time lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, as its senior public policy associate.

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