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News Briefs I

Senate Votes to Keep Tobacco Under State Control


The Senate Thursday handed a big victory to governors in their fight to control the $250 billion settlement with the tobacco industry, refusing to require states to spend half the money on anti-smoking and public health programs.

The Senate’s resounding, bipartisan 71-29 vote was a significant defeat for the Clinton administration, which has claimed the right to use some of the settlement money for federal public health initiatives -- or at least to determine how it is spent by the states.

The administration’s stance “is typical federal government arrogance,” said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss). “The federal government wants the money -- or if they don’t get it, they want to control it.”

The vote was also a defeat for public health groups that have lobbied heavily to ensure the money cigarette manufacturers agreed to pay to the 50 states goes to help reduce smoking, especially among young people.

The issue was joined when the Senate defeated an amendment that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) offered to an unrelated spending bill that would have forced states to spend 20 percent of their settlement money on anti-tobacco programs and 30 percent on public health programs or aid to tobacco farmers.

Federal Panel Clears Way For Investigation of Starr


In a ruling acknowledging the limits of its power, a federal court panel on Thursday cleared the way for Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate misconduct allegations involving the office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

The three appellate court judges, who appointed Starr in 1994, said they have no authority to order Reno to cease her inquiry, as a conservative legal foundation had sought last month.

The decision leaves Reno free to have the department’s public integrity section continue its probe into whether Starr’s office improperly leaked sensitive information about its grand jury investigation of President Clinton’s affair with a former White House intern, and whether Starr’s prosecutors improperly sought to negotiate an immunity deal early last year with the intern, Monica S. Lewinsky, without her lawyer present.

Mexico’s Ruling Party to Elect Leader for First Time


Mexico’s long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party geared up Thursday to elect its leader for the first time, following the surprise resignation of its powerful chief.

The outgoing leader, Mariano Palacios Alcocer, said the March 30 vote by a party council was aimed at increasing democracy within the party, known as the PRI. In the past, the Mexican president appointed the PRI’s chief and its presidential candidate in a process known as the “dedazo,” or big finger.

Now, both top party figures will be chosen by a vote. Wednesday night’s announcement produced skepticism among some analysts, who questioned whether the election for PRI chief would represent real change in the party that has dominated Mexican politics for 70 years.

“There’s no doubt it’s a presidential ‘dedazo.’ It’s just not as primitive as in the past,” said Alfonso Zarate, editor of a political newsletter here