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Washington in brief

Compiled from Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000

Seniors may get fraud aid

WASHINGTON -- A measure aimed at protecting the nation's elderly from telemarketing and sweepstakes fraud passed the House on Monday.

The Protecting Seniors from Fraud Act, which passed by a voice vote, now goes to the White House for President Clinton's signature.

Sen. Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who wrote the measure, said seniors are targeted by criminals and fraudulent telemarketers more than any other group.

The bill authorizes $5-million over five years to help law enforcement and federal agencies protect and inform the elderly of fraudulent telemarketing and investment schemes.

It also creates a clearinghouse to keep track of complaints made about telemarketing companies and requires that crimes against seniors be included in the nation's annual crime victims survey.

Secret evidence bill won't come up this session

A bill pushed in Congress by civil rights proponents to stop the use of secret evidence against immigrants will not be considered before the session ends.

More than 125 members of the U.S. House signed on as co-sponsors of the Secret Evidence Repeal Act. The bipartisan legislation would restrict how the Immigration and Naturalization Service and FBI may use secret, or classified, evidence to keep immigrants in jail or deny them asylum.

It was inspired by Mazen Al-Najjar, a former University of South Florida teacher who has been detained more than three years without charges on secret evidence alleging ties to terrorists.

"Despite broad bipartisan support for repealing secret evidence, the Republican leadership won't budge," Minority Whip David Bonior said in a statement released Monday. "When it comes to protecting the rights of Arabs and Muslims in this country the Republican leadership talks the talk, but they lack the will to walk the walk," said the Michigan Democrat.

Both major party candidates for president have expressed opposition to the use of secret evidence. It has been used almost exclusively against Arabs and Muslims.

At the Supreme Court

CONFEDERATE FLAG: Justices declined to get involved in a dispute over a Florida high school student disciplined for displaying a small Confederate battle flag on school grounds.

In 1995, Volusia County student Wayne Denno refused to put the flag away when confronted by a school administrator and was then suspended from school for nine days. Denno alleged a principal called him a racist, and the Florida school system later said that Denno was trying to incite a riot.

Denno had some success in court, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that the suit should be thrown out.

KLAN-ADOPTED HIGHWAY: The court asked the Justice Department for its views on whether Missouri can ban the Ku Klux Klan from its Adopt-A-Highway cleanup program. The state says it can keep the group out because it won't accept blacks and other minorities as members, but a lower court said the state acted unconstitutionally because of the klan's viewpoint. The justices will decide later whether to hear the state's appeal.

TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: Justices turned aside a challenge to the 2-year-old national tobacco settlement. They rejected an appeal that said smokers wound up paying illegally higher prices for their cigarettes as a result of the landmark $246-billion deal between the industry and the states.

BCCI: A retired Saudi government official ordered to pay $1.1-billion in damages in connection with the BCCI banking scandal lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday.

The court, without comment, rejected Abdul Raouf Hasan Khalil's argument that he could not be forced to pay damages to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International's court-appointed liquidators because his actions aimed to benefit the bank, not harm it.

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