In brief | Nation & world | 7-30-14


White House, privacy groups like Leahy’s version better than a House bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Patrick Leahy on Tuesday introduced a bill to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, a proposal that goes further than a similar House measure and has drawn support from civil liberties groups, the White House and Republicans.

The bill represents the latest step in fulfilling a January promise by President Barack Obama to end the NSA’s collection of domestic calling records. If enacted, it would represent the most significant change to come in the wake of the leaks of once-secret surveillance programs by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.

The measure was co-sponsored by Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

It would not affect most NSA surveillance, which operates under different authorities than the Patriot Act provision under which the agency was collecting telephone calling records.

US appeals court keeps Mississippi’s last abortion clinic open, saying rights need protection

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s effort to close its last abortion clinic was overturned in federal appellate court on Tuesday. Advocates for the law said women with unwanted pregnancies could always travel to other states, but the judges said every state must guarantee constitutional rights, including abortion.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to block Mississippi’s 2012 law requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Ten states have adopted similar laws, forcing a growing number of clinics to close. Many hospitals ignore or reject abortion doctors’ applications, and won’t grant privileges to out-of-state physicians. Both obstacles were encountered by the traveling doctors who staff Mississippi’s last clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state,” said Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup.

The ruling from the conservative 5th Circuit was narrowly crafted to address the situation in Mississippi, but it could have implications for other states with similar laws and dwindling access to abortion, such as Wisconsin and Alabama, whose officials have said women could cross state lines if clinics close, said the center’s litigation director, Julie Rikelman.

Will money keep flowing for America’s highways and bridges? Senate to vote as deadline nears

WASHINGTON — Racing to adjourn for the summer, the Senate scheduled major votes Tuesday to keep federal highway funds flowing across the nation — billions of dollars to avert layoffs for construction workers and shutdowns of road and bridge projects just before the November elections.

A smooth trip through Congress was anything but guaranteed. Senators in the afternoon started tinkering with a $10.8 billion bill the House passed last week that would pay for highway and transit aid to states through next May at current spending levels. Any changes would send the bill back to the House rather than to President Barack Obama for his signature enacting it into law.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared his chamber would not accept Senate changes to the bill’s financing. “I just want to make clear, if the Senate sends a highway bill over here with those provisions, we’re going to strip it out and put the House-passed provisions back in and send it back to the Senate,” he said.

By Aug. 1 — this Friday — the federal Highway Trust Fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, the Transportation Department says, and the government will begin to stretch out payments. Congress has kept the trust fund teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since 2008 through a series of temporary fixes because lawmakers have been unable to find a politically acceptable, long-term funding plan. States have been warned to expect an average reduction of 28 percent in aid payments.

Without action from Congress, the balance in the fund is expected to drop to zero by late August or early September. And, separately, the government’s authority to spend money on transportation programs expires on Oct. 1. Some states already have cut back on construction projects because of uncertainty over federal funding, and Obama and state and local officials have complained that the uncertainty over funding is costing jobs.

By wire sources