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Congress wants new agency by Sept. 11

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2002

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate leaders announced hearings next week on President Bush's proposed Homeland Security Department and set an ambitious goal of achieving final approval by Sept. 11.

In a show of bipartisan cooperation, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., each said they hoped to have initial versions of the legislation passed before the August congressional recess.

That would theoretically give Congress time to develop a final compromise by mid September -- if things moved extremely smoothly -- on a plan to transfer 100 federal entities and thousands of employees into a single Cabinet-level domestic security agency.

To kick things off, Tom Ridge, chief of the White House homeland security office, agreed to testify before House and Senate committees next week. Ridge previously resisted formal testimony on grounds that he is a presidential adviser, not a Cabinet official.

Now, with Ridge a candidate to run the new agency, the White House is making him available to any and all on Capitol Hill. Ridge and Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, briefed about 50 senators on the proposal in private Thursday and met with smaller groups of lawmakers.

* * *

LAWSUIT LIMITS BLOCKED: Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a GOP attempt to limit lawsuits against companies struck by terrorists. Republican senators said the move would bring a presidential veto for legislation designed to help cover insurance costs of possible future attacks.

The Senate, by a 50-46 party-line vote, rejected a GOP amendment to eliminate punitive damages in lawsuits against companies whose buildings are hit by terrorists.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to protect trial lawyers in an election year. Democrats said Republicans were looking out for businesses that are major GOP donors.

DNA lacking in remains from trade center victims

NEW YORK -- As many as half of the nearly 20,000 pieces of human remains recovered in the World Trade Center ruins have not yielded DNA and are being preserved for future testing, according to the city medical examiner.

Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner, would not elaborate on why some tissue has not yielded DNA, which scientists can use to link remains to people killed in the Sept. 11 attack.

Borakove said advances in technology might allow for successful testing in the future.

DNA expert Victor Weedn, the founder of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md., said many of the body parts may never yield usable DNA. The DNA could have been damaged, he said, by decomposition enzymes, bacteria or the extreme heat of the fires.

Of the 2,823 people lost at the trade center Sept. 11, city officials say 1,109 have been identified -- about 350 through DNA alone, Borakove said.

Lawyer: Pilot unaware bomb targeted Canadians

TORONTO -- The American pilot who dropped a bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan did not know the ground troops were part of the U.S.-led coalition, his lawyer said Thursday.

The soldiers were conducting live-fire exercises near Kandahar about 1 a.m. on April 18 when a U.S. F-16 dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb near them.

"The pilot believes that he properly followed procedures based on the information he had at the time," Capt. James Key, a U.S. Air Force lawyer, said in a written statement.

In Thursday's statement, Key said the pilot was under orders not to discuss the incident publicly, but wanted to say he was sorry for what happened.

"He feels great sorrow for this tragic accident," Key said.

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