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News Briefs, part 1

Disney Abandons Northern Va. Site

The Washington Post

The Walt Disney Co. killed its Prince William County, Va. theme park Wednesday night, apparently after deciding that an unexpected national debate over the location and concept of the $650 million Disney's America was hurting the company's image.

The two top officials of the theme park flew to Richmond Wednesday night to brief a grim Gov. George Allen about the decision. County officials were notified over the next few hours.

The entertainment giant had won $163 million in incentives from Virginia lawmakers earlier this year and seemed on the way to gaining final zoning approval from county officials next month. But company executives decided over the weekend that the prolonged and increasingly ugly fight could permanently damage Disney's valuable corporate image, a source said Wednesday night.

The announcement was a major blow to park supporters, including most county government officials, who had expected the 3,000-acre park and related development near Haymarket to create 3,000 jobs and generate $12 million a year in countytax revenue.

But the announcement was welcome news for the historians and environmentalists who opposed the park, saying it would descecrate nearby Civil War sites and trivialize America's past.

New Skirmish Brews Over Health Care Reform On Retirement Act

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Just when members of Congress and their exhausted staffs thought the bruising health care reform fight was behind them, a new skirmish is brewing.

Unable to agree on a national reform agenda, members are arguing over how much authority to cede to the states - an issue that has taken on new urgency now that the federal initiative is dead.

The latest controversy focuses on a 20-year-old law known as ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which effectively bars states from regulating the health benefits of most of their residents.

In these waning days of Congress, many states are aggressively seeking individual exemptions from ERISA, without which their sweeping reform efforts will all but collapse.

Despite the stakes, however, the battle's outcome is highly uncertain. For one thing, as with so many other controversies in health care reform, this issue has led to some unlikely alliances.

Joining the nation's governors in arguing for greater state flexibility are many Democrats who long have championed federalism, including Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and Bob Graham of Florida and Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

On the other side, closing ranks in the name of uniform national standards are big, multi-state employers, insurers and labor unions, joined by moderates and conservatives who otherwise have vigorously backed states rights, including Sens. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., John H. Chafee, R-R.I., Don Nickles, R-Okla., John C. Danforth, R-Mo., and Richard C. Shelby, D-Ala.

House Passes Bill to Restrict Lobbyists From Giving Perks

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Reviving a long-dormant reform issue in the waning days of Congress, the House Thursday approved a bill to ban lobbyists from giving free meals, travel and entertainment to members of Congress and their staff aides.

The measure, which faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, was passed in the House by a 306-112 vote after narrowly overcoming strong Republican-led efforts to kill the legislation and deny Democrats a pre-election victory.

Adopted with strong support from the large freshman class, the bill was designed to curb the widespread practice of lobbyists picking up the tab for expensive meals, golf outings and tickets to sports events for members of Congress. It even forbids lobbyists from giving lawmakers a bottle of wine. The gift ban would take effect next May 31.

The far-reaching bill also would require professional lobbyists of Congress and senior officials of the executive branch to register and disclose what legislation or regulations they are trying to influence. These provisions would take effect in January 1996.