You know an interest group has come of age when its legislation sails into Congress with strong bipartisan support in the midst of an election year. By that standard, the women business owners of America have arrived. In July, Rep. John LaFalce (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, introduced the Women's Business Ownership Act of 1988, symbolically numbered HR 5050. Crafted largely by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the bill passed in the Senate and House in October.

The legislation covers several key items on NAWBO's agenda:

* Access to credit.The bill amends the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 to include business loans. It also requires financial institutions to inform applicants of their right to a written explanation for a loan denial, and to refrain from inquiring into an applicant's marital status.

* Training support. A three-year, $10-million program will finance public- and private-sector initiatives aimed at providing sustained, high-quality training and technical assistance to women business owners.

* Official advocate. A National Women's Business Council will be created to draw up a long-term plan

for supporting women-owned businesses, with specific goals and timetables.

NAWBO is understandably delighted with the bill, which addresses real problems women business owners have encountered. But is another federal program the way to solve them? Time will tell.

-- Jay Finegan

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