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Washington in brief

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2000

Congress passes high-tech visa bill

WASHINGTON -- High-tech companies could bring in almost 600,000 additional skilled foreign workers over the next three years and also hire thousands more foreign students from U.S. graduate programs under a bill that sped through Congress on Tuesday.

The Senate passed the bill on a 96-1 vote, and the House followed with voice vote passage several hours later, abandoning a version of its own that met serious opposition from the technology industry. President Clinton has said he will sign it.

Testimony changed in White House e-mail case

A former White House lawyer has changed some of her testimony in the e-mail controversy after being brought before a grand jury and confronted with documents by prosecutors in Independent Counsel Robert Ray's office.

The changes submitted by ex-White House lawyer Michelle Peterson in a civil court filing give a glimpse of Ray's investigation into whether the White House covered up the e-mail problem in 1998 at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Presidential aides deny any coverup.

Alleging bias, HUD seizes Texas housing agency

The Department of Housing and Urban Affairs seized control of a Texas public housing authority Tuesday, saying the agency had demonstrated a pattern of discriminatory abuses dating to the 1960s.

"There's no question as to the existence of discrimination. There's no question that it's been going on for decades. The only question is, when do you say, "Enough is enough,' " said HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, announcing the federal takeover of the Beaumont Housing Authority.

HUD officials said the Beaumont agency sold public housing units to ineligible buyers, failed to use public housing funds to help low-income families and kept inadequate records on the administration of its programs and its compliance with civil rights laws.

Also Tuesday

ANTHRAX VACCINE: Despite more than 1,500 reports of adverse reactions, "no clear patterns" have emerged in any illness said to be related to the anthrax vaccine being given to the military, the Food and Drug Administration told Congress. A string of witnesses at a four-hour congressional hearing, some in tears, blamed the vaccine for a variety of diseases or the deaths of loved ones.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: After a summer of brownouts, the Clinton administration proposed efficiency standards that would require new home central air conditioners and heat pumps to use 20 percent to 30 percent less electricity.

The increased cost of the improvements -- $274 more for the air units and $486 for a typical heat pump -- would be more than offset by consumers' electricity savings over time, Energy Department officials said.

NEEDLE INJURIES: The House voted to require hospitals and health care facilities to use safety devices to reduce the number of needle-related injuries. The bill, passed on a voice vote, still requires Senate approval.

PARK FEES: Visitors to some American parks and forests have become accustomed to paying admission and the House voted to extend those fees through 2002.

A provision in the bill that funds the National Park Service moves the fees' expiration date back a year to Sept. 30, 2002. The bill passed the House on a vote of 348-69 and is expected to pass the Senate. By extending the fees, Congress ducked a decision on whether to make the recreation fee program permanent.

ALIEN SMUGGLING: The House voted to double criminal sentences for those involved in smuggling aliens into the country.

The legislation, passed by voice, would establish mandatory minimum sentences for alien-smuggling crimes and make fines for those convicted of smuggling aliens equivalent to twice the amount the smuggler received for the crime. A similar bill is being considered by the Senate.

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