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News Briefs

Panel OKs Easing Restrictions For Noncitizen Screeners


Two powerful senators joined forces Thursday to win committee passage of an amendment that would ease the U.S. citizenship requirement for about 60,000 airport screener positions in the new Transportation Security Administration.

The measure would allow most current security screeners who are legal, permanent immigrants to apply for the new, better-paying TSA jobs. Honorably discharged military veterans who are not U.S. citizens would also be entitled to apply.

To be eligible, screeners would have had to be employed on or before Nov. 19, 2001, the date on which last year’s sweeping aviation security bill was enacted. But passage by the full Senate and the House would still be required before President Bush can sign the measure into law.

The move provides a glimmer of hope for thousands of screeners at California airports. Noncitizens currently account for 40 percent of the work force at Los Angeles International Airport, 80 percent at San Francisco International Airport and 40 percent at Oakland International Airport, according to statistics from the Service Employees International Union.

Those employees -- most of whom are minorities -- will find themselves out of a job in the next few weeks if the measure does not pass. The citizenship requirement is so important to lower-income California workers that the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Department of Transportation on behalf of nine California screeners in January seeking to block the requirement that airport security screeners be U.S. citizens.

Paralysis Linked to West Nile Virus


The West Nile virus apparently has caused six people in Mississippi and Lousiana to develop polio-like paralysis, heightening concern about the rapidly spreading virus, federal health officials reported Thursday.

They believe the syndrome, which has left several victims struggling for their life on respirator, may be a direct manifestation of the West Nile infection, and they want to alert doctors so they do not misdiagnose patients and give them the wrong medications.

Experts from the CDC and Food and Drug Administration also said Thursday that the West Nile virus can survive in some blood products and can probably be passed between people through blood transfusions. As a result, federal officials said they were increasingly convinced that they need to quickly develop a screening test to protect supplies in blood banks.

The number of cases has increased dramatically this year and spread across the nation. According to CDC, the number of reported West Nile virus cases has spiked this month to 1,641 nationwide, with 80 deaths, reported in 31 states and Washington, D.C. Although much of the attention has been focused on outbreaks in the Deep South, the largest number of cases and deaths has been reported in Illinois. Michigan and Ohio have also recorded more than 100 new cases this month.

Cancer Researcher Reports Success With Immune Cell Treatment


A research team at the National Cancer Institute has successfully treated several cases of advanced and usually fatal cancer with immune system cells taken from the patients, grown in large numbers, and given back to them.

The treatment is one of many strategies scientists are using to try to harness the human immune system’s capacity to produce rare cells capable of hunting down and attacking tumors.

The research also marks the first real success in a decade for a once highly touted strategy conceived by Steven Rosenberg, a cancer institute surgeon and one of the founders of “immunotherapy.” His experiments in the late 1980s, first with mice and then with human beings, were viewed by some as the path to the elusive “cure for cancer.” Their clinical results, however, were disappointing in almost all cases.

While the new strategy worked only half the time and has been tried only in the skin cancer known as melanoma, the results suggest it may be applicable to other malignancies.

In their most recent strategy, the researchers once again isolated TIL from multiple samples of each patient’s own tumor and grew them in the laboratory. Up to 50 different samples from each patient were tested against the person’s own cancer cells. The samples with the most killing activity were selected for reinfusion into the bloodstream.

Overtime Puts Capitol Police Officers Near Salary Cap


A handful of U.S. Capitol Police officers whose paychecks have been plumped by huge amounts of overtime are bumping into a salary cap that bars employees of Congress from being paid more than members of Congress.

The limit -- $148,500 -- is usually an issue only for top Capitol Hill aides or other senior Capitol officials. But several police officers and sergeants -- shoe-leather types whose basic pay averages $53,327 and tops out at $70,000 -- have been told they might have to forgo extra duty or be furloughed for the rest of the year if they reach the cap.

Line officers working at the Capitol this week expressed mixed emotions at the new dynamic. Outside the Senate chamber, one officer said he had 12 weeks of compensatory time, and he said he would take that leave as soon as he could to spend time with his wife and two toddler sons.

In the year since the terrorist attacks, the Capitol Police department’s 1,272 sworn officers have pulled enough additional shifts to add up to work that would have required 262 additional officers on normal shifts, said Police Chief Terrance Gainer. The average officer logged 441 hours of extra time -- about three months’ worth -- boosting earnings by $16,786 to $70,113.