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Washington in brief

House approves identity theft bill

By Wire services
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2003

WASHINGTON - The House voted Wednesday to give Americans new weapons for fighting identity theft - including a free credit report on request and a single telephone call "fraud alert" system to block thieves from opening accounts in their names.

Those steps were among the changes lawmakers approved to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which contains provisions that must be renewed by year's end. The legislation was approved 392-30. Every Florida representative supported the bill.

Identity theft cost consumers and businesses $53-billion last year, the Federal Trade Commission said last week, with almost 10-million Americans falling victim to thieves using their name and other personal information to establish credit or buy products.

"This bill will give consumers the weapons they need to fight identity thieves and the tools to repair their credit history after an attack," said Financial Services Chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio.

Under the legislation, all consumers would have the right to a free copy of their credit report annually upon request.

The bill also gives consumers "one-call-for-all" protection by requiring credit bureaus to share consumer calls on identity theft, including requested fraud alert blocking.

"This legislation not only empowers consumers with protections, it also demands creditors and credit bureaus do their part to combat fraud," said Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.

The White House supports the legislation. The Senate has yet to consider similar legislation, but its Banking Committee is expected to act soon.

Also . . .

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Senators agreed to boost spending on special education by $2.2-billion, more than twice the increase they first proposed for the upcoming budget year. The Senate had planned a $1-billion increase. The extra $1.2-billion would bring spending on programs for children with disabilities to nearly $11.1-billion. That's one of the largest federal investments in education.

WELFARE: The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that increases work requirements for welfare recipients. The bill, approved by a party-line vote of 9-8, would spend $1-billion over the next five years to promote marriage as a goal for people on welfare.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: The United States will impose economic sanctions on Burma, Cuba and North Korea for failing to take steps to stop "human trafficking" such as forcing people to work or engage in sexual acts against their will, the White House said. Ten other nations - Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan - have made enough progress in ending "this heinous crime" to avoid losing U.S. assistance, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

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