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Calif. bill would air rail bidders' Holocaust role

(The Associated Press circulated the following on August 12, 2010.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Companies hoping for a piece of California's future high-speed rail project would have to disclose whether they transported Holocaust victims or POWs to Nazi camps during World War II, under a bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday.

The measure would require companies seeking contracts with the state's High-Speed Rail Authority to reveal any involvement in transporting people to concentration, prisoner-of-war, labor or extermination camps. They also must report whether they took remedial steps for their action or paid restitution to victims.

The Senate voted 31-1 to approve AB619, sending it back to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote before it heads to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

The measure's author, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, said he hoped it would encourage companies to acknowledge past wrongdoing.

"Any company that has failed to take responsibility for its participation in mass genocide should be made to disclose this fact before being considered for these lucrative contracts," the Woodland Hills Democrat said Thursday.

As originally drafted, the bill would have given the rail authority the power to disqualify bidders based on their disclosures. It was later amended to remove that text.

The rail authority will begin accepting bids for the $45 billion project next year, and several international railroads have expressed interest in building the 800-mile rail system.

One of those, the French national railway company, SNCF, was the inspiration behind AB619, Blumenfield said. In 2000, SNCF commissioned and released a study of its wartime operations, which included providing trains, personnel and logistics to the Nazis.

The study concluded that because SNCF was taken over by the Nazis during the German occupation, French railway workers were acting under duress when they transported people to concentration camps.

Blumenfield disputes that claim, saying the company should pay restitution to survivors, which it has not yet done.

A lawyer for SNCF, Peter Kelly, previously said the company would cooperate with AB619's disclosure requirements if they become law. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday from The Associated Press.

In January, California was awarded more than $2.2 billion in federal funding to help pay for the high-speed rail system. The state's voters approved nearly $10 billion toward the system in 2008.

Friday, August 13, 2010

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