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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Senate committee narrowly passed legislation Thursday that would limit employer stock in 401(k) plans, a response to hundreds of Enron workers who lost their retirement savings last year because they heavily invested in company stock.

The Democrat-controlled Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the bill along party lines, with Republicans arguing that the legislation would prompt companies to stop matching contributions or cease offering 401(k) plans altogether.

Ranking Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire criticized the bill as ``paternalistic'' because it is ``us here in Washington managing people's lives.''

The legislation, sponsored by committee chairman Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., would let employers make matching contributions to their employees' plans with company stock or let workers buy the stock as a retirement investment option, but not both.

``If this bill had been the law of the land, Enron employees would not have lost their entire retirement savings,'' Kennedy said. ``Our bill will protect America's workers and prevent future Enrons.''

The bill also would require that workers and plan participants be represented on a company board overseeing retirement plans.

The Republican-controlled House is tackling Enron-related pension reform differently. Two bills passed by separate House committees do not limit the amount of employer stock in 401(k) plans.

Instead, the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, passed Wednesday, would allow workers to sell employer stock received as matching contributions after three years. Some companies require workers to hold such stock until they reach age 50.

President Bush has proposed letting workers sell all such stock three years after joining the plan.