Tuesday, April 25, 2006

First Responders' Radios Called Inadequate

Many emergency response crews in eight hurricane-prone states still cannot talk to one another across jurisdictional lines, according to a report by a nonprofit group that seeks government funding for the workers.

Efforts to establish statewide communications networks in the states have been sluggish, the Washington-based First Response Coalition said.

The report comes 38 days before the start of the hurricane season. After last year's record 15 hurricanes, including Katrina, which killed more than 1,300 people, emergency workers complained that they did not have radios that allowed them to talk with officers from other areas.

The report covered preparations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Although the report offered some praise for efforts in South Carolina and Florida, most emergency workers remain a long way from having adequate communications networks, said Steven Jones, executive director of the coalition. "If you're not getting the local first responders on board, then it's not going to matter when it comes to an emergency," he said.

House to Vote on Rewritten Lobbying Bill

Lobbying legislation is heading to a House vote this week without provisions requiring lobbyists to keep track of their contacts with lawmakers and report fundraising activities. Democrats and activist groups say the bill is now too weak to change the money culture in Washington.

"They took an already unacceptable bill and turned it into a charade," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, one of the groups pushing for major changes in the way lawmakers interact with lobbyists.

With opinions divided over the effectiveness of the House bill, the vote scheduled for Thursday is likely to be far closer than the 90 to 8 vote in the Senate last month on another version.

The bills were prompted by scandals involving disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who was convicted of taking bribes from defense contractors.

Senators May Hear Testimony on Rumsfeld

The Senate Armed Services Committee will vote on a request by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to take testimony from six retired generals who have called for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's removal, the panel's chairman said.

Clinton asked Republican John W. Warner (Va.) in a letter last week to call a hearing so the committee "can help ensure we learn from past experiences and better shape future operations."

Warner declined to say when the vote would take place and whether it would be in open session. "All of those matters will be taken up with members of the committee," he said in an interview yesterday on Capitol Hill.

Clinton, a member of the panel, is not among those Democrats who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

"That's for the president to decide," she said at a news conference in New York last week. "As far as I can tell, Secretary Rumsfeld is doing what the president wants him to do."

-- From News Services

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