Senate Panel Approves

Class Action Reform

Many class action lawsuits would be forced from state courts and into federal courts under legislation that the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared yesterday.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) described the bill as a "modest and very fair effort to reform the abuses in the current system, abuses that are actually hurting those the system is supposed to help." The panel voted 12 to 7 to approve the legislation.

Under the bill, class action lawsuits in which the primary defendant and fewer than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state would be heard in federal court. Any class action suit in which more than one-third of the plaintiffs and the primary defendant are from the same state still could be heard in state court.

At least $5 million would have to be at stake for a class action lawsuit to be heard in federal court.

Supporters say the formula was devised to put national class-action cases in federal courts, and cases that affect primarily people within a state in state courts.

Ratification Sought

For NATO Expansion

President Bush asked the Senate to ratify NATO's expansion, which would include seven more Eastern European nations.

"The president is very pleased that the Senate will now be able to vote on expanding NATO to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Senate approval is required for the proposed expansion.

Bush Backs Renewing

Assault Weapons Ban

The Bush administration is bucking the National Rifle Association and supporting a renewal of the assault weapons ban, set to expire just before the presidential election. "The president supports the current law, and he supports reauthorization of the current law," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told Knight Ridder.

Tossing out the ban on semiautomatic weapons is a top priority of the NRA. Bush said during his presidential campaign that he supported the ban, but it was less clear whether he would support an extension.

House Bill Bars

'Blood Diamonds'

Illegal diamonds that finance civil wars in Africa would be banned from the United States under legislation Congress approved yesterday. The House gave final approval by voice vote to the legislation. It would bring the United States under an international agreement that bans the export or import of what are known as conflict or blood diamonds. The Senate passed the bill Thursday.

Diamond production has financed deadly conflicts in countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo and Liberia. Rebels use forced labor to mine diamonds, then use the proceeds to buy weapons and finance military activity.

-- From News Services