Anti-Penny Bill Remains Controversial

ByABC News
July 9, 2002, 2:36 PM

July 23 -- About a year has passed now since U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe made headlines by introducing his anti-penny bill, yet these pesky one-cent coins continue to jingle uselessly in people's pockets. Can nobody rid America of this copper-coated scourge?

Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, is doing his best, although his proposed Legal Tender Modernization Act is languishing in a subcommittee. The bill would not ban pennies, but merely discourage their use by establishing a system under which cash transactions would be rounded up or down. That would render the penny unnecessary.

"It's practically useless in everyday life," complains Neena Moorjani, Kolbe's press secretary. But the penny has its fans, especially in Tennessee, which is rich in zinc. Up until 1982, pennies were made mostly of copper; since then they have been 97.5 percent zinc, with a little copper mixed in for appearance's sake.

Recently, two lawmakers from the Volunteer State introduced a resolution commemorating the 20th anniversary of the zinc-based penny. Fans of this coin note snidely that Kolbe's home state of Arizona is rich in copper which makes up a bigger percentage of the larger-denomination coins that might be more heavily used if the penny were discontinued. Kolbe also favors replacing paper dollar bills with longer-lasting $1 coins and as it happens, the Sacagawea "golden dollar" introduced two years ago is made mostly of copper.

Penny Pushers

Moorjani stoutly rejects the suggestion that her boss is shilling for his state's copper interests. "Our office has not spoken to the copper industry in Arizona about this issue at all," she says, referring to the Legal Tender Modernization bill.

Be that as it may, Kolbe's proposals are only logical. Several other nations have eliminated their small-denomination coins without going to wrack and ruin in the process, and Canada managed to replace its dollar bills with dollar coins. Yet many Americans recoil from the idea of losing the penny, and they have responded to the golden dollar more by admiring its image of Sacagawea than by using it to buy things.