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News Briefs I

Safety Agency to Allow Air Bag Cut-Off Switches

The Washington Post

After more than a year of debate, the government will issue a rule Tuesday allowing car owners to install switches to turn air bags on or off, according to administration sources. The rule is a compromise designed to satisfy auto industry and consumer groups who say the switches could lead to more highway deaths, while mollifying motorists and passengers who fear the air bags, which deploy forcefully, could injure or kill them.

"This is an extremely complex policy issue. We've heard arguments from all sides. In the end, we think we came up with the best, balanced program possible," said one administration official knowledgeable about the rule.

The switches will cost as much as $200 to install, according to officials of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. According to one study for an air bag manufacturer, as many as 6 million car owners would have deactivated their air bags if allowed to do so without government approval.

Under the final rule, a car owner would request an application from the government and would receive a form along with information on the risks of disabling an air bag. The owner would "self-certify" that he or she qualifies, and submit the form for NHTSA approval. The agency would send the owner an authorization letter allowing a mechanic to install the switch.

Acceptable reasons for putting in a switch would include having to sit too close to the steering wheel because of small physical stature, or the need to use the front seat to ferry several children. Tests show that drivers or passengers who sit within 12 inches of an air bag are at risk of injury on deployment.

Clinton Urges Corporations to Do Their Part for Welfare Reform

Los Angeles Times

Last May, President Clinton invited a coterie of corporate executives to the White House, where they pledged to draft 1,000 companies to hire welfare recipients.

On Monday, Clinton traveled to Kansas to visit one of those companies - Cessna Aircraft - and happily announced that 2,500 corporations have joined the effort, which the White House has said is a key to successfully reforming the welfare system.

"These companies have over 5 million employees," Clinton said. "Some of them are big, like Cessna. But 75 percent of them them are small businesses. We need all of these companies."

Clinton's latest announcement came as the federal government released several hundred pages of regulations governing the states' use of some $14 billion in federal welfare funds.

Those regulations outline strict financial penalties for states that fail to get substantial percentages of their welfare caseloads to work. To help states meet those targets, Clinton has crisscrossed the country exhorting business leaders to hire welfare recipients.

But the president's appeals have met with some resistance from the business community, including a group organized recently by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Presidential pleas and financial inducements, many business leaders have warned, are no substitute for educated workers with good work habits, reliable child care and transportation. If state government and community agencies fail to provide those supports, the business leaders warned, employers cannot be expected to pick up the slack.

Reno, Chinese Counterpart Discuss Campaign Probe

Los Angeles Times

Attorney General Janet Reno met behind closed doors Monday with her Chinese counterpart, Justice Minister Xiao Yang, but aides said that they could report no progress on the department's campaign fund-raising investigation.

Referring to evidence that the Chinese government sought last year to buy political influence in the United States with secret campaign contributions, Reno said in a statement that she made it "very clear to Minister Xiao that we are seeking the full cooperation of the Chinese government."

A Justice Department source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Xiao did not offer such cooperation.

Senior Chinese officials repeatedly have denied that they made any effort to illegally direct money into U.S. political campaigns or improperly influence political events through other means.

In an effort to put the meeting in its best light, Reno's statement said that the two officials and their deputies "discussed a wide range of legal and law enforcement issues" and that the session marked "a productive first step."

She added: "We agreed that our departments should meet again and continue to work together on law enforcement issues."