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News Briefs

Pet Issues Slow Appropriations Bill
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Despite a fragile truce aimed at speeding approval of the 13 annual appropriations bills, parochial and ideological interests keep popping up.

Late Wednesday, for example, the House Republican leadership almost derailed a $123.5 billion education, health and labor bill to accommodate a conservative rider that would have blocked funding for school-based health clinics dispensing ``morning after’’ birth control pills.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and health subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, had reported the bill with hardly a whisper of partisan discord before Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., insisted that the amendment be considered. Hastert’s intercession threatened a donnybrook that could have kept the bill from reaching the House floor.

Faced with a revolt, Hastert hastily persuaded Hart to withdraw her provision with the understanding she would get a vote on it at a later date.

The Senate truce between the Democrats and Republicans over appropriations also is proving a bit shaky.

Although the House education, health and labor bill avoided controversy over stem cell research, some senators said they would fight a stem cell provision sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in the Senate version. That provision would give the president discretion to increase the number of embryos available for the research beyond a narrow list announced last summer.

It is all a sign that members, even in mid-crisis, still view the end-of-session appropriations process as a last-ditch chance to fight for their interests.

Davis Signs Bill Expanding Rights of Same-Sex Couples
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to sign a bill substantially expanding rights for gays and lesbians in domestic partnerships will place California at the forefront of efforts to give same-sex couples the benefits and protections of traditional marriage, advocates say.

At a signing ceremony in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, Davis said the bill -- passed despite significant conservative opposition in the Legislature -- is about fairness and equal treatment under the law.

“This will be one of the strongest domestic-partnership bills in the country,” Davis said. Encouraging such unions, he added, helps build strong relationships, and “society benefits when people find comfort and assurance and stability in relationships.”

Supporters said the measure provides important legal recognition of California’s expanding ranks of nontraditional families. But the bill drew angry denunciations from Republicans on the floor of both houses, where the votes split along party lines.

The Campaign for California Families, a nonprofit conservative group, ran television and radio ads urging Davis to veto the bill. The group’s executive director, Randy Thomasson, said that “in one fell swoop, Gray Davis has cheapened every marriage in the state” by extending some marital rights to gays and lesbians.

So far, Vermont is the only state that has allowed gay couples to form “civil unions” that carry 300 of the rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage. But activists in California note that Vermont was forced through legal action to take that step, while progress on domestic partnerships in the Golden State has been accomplished legislatively.

Post Office Issues National Warning
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The U.S. Postal Service announced Monday that it will send a warning to 135 million U.S. homes, businesses and other addresses cautioning them about the threat posed by biological hazards moving through the U.S. mail, and it will provide gloves and masks immediately to all mail-handling employees.

The Postal Inspection Service has reassigned the vast majority of its 1,900 inspectors nationwide and 1,400 postal police officers to the threat. The inspectors will be at postal facilities to isolate suspicious packages and to be a visible presence to reassure the public.

U.S. Postmaster General John E. Potter, at a trade convention for mailing companies in Denver, also announced the formation of a new federal mail security task force that is focusing on potential biological and chemical hazards.

The measures came as federal agencies quickened their response to reports of anthrax-contaminated letters sent to Florida, New York, Nevada and possibly to Washington. Mail industry officials also sought to reassure the public of the general safety of the $900 billion-a-year industry that is vital to the national economy.

Terrorist Asset Freeze Found Lacking

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Money-laundering experts say the U.S. effort to starve terrorists of funds by freezing their assets lacked a sense of urgency before Sept. 11, reflecting a failure to appreciate the extent of the terrorist threat.

Consider that after successfully pushing the United Nations ``to freeze without delay’’ the assets of people linked to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, the United States took more than seven months to impose the sanctions on a string of top bin Laden lieutenants, something it accomplished only last Friday.

On Friday, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill named an additional 39 people and groups whose U.S. assets can be frozen under a sweeping order issued Sept. 24 by President Bush. The order also allows the assets of foreign banks that do business with terrorists, or that refuse to cooperate with the U.S. investigation, to be blocked.

Friday’s announcement brought the total number of names on the U.S. blacklist to 66. Last December, the United States and Russia successfully co-sponsored a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring member states to block funds of those on a list of designated terrorists.