Appeals Court Finds Florida Law

On Vouchers Is Unconstitutional

TALLAHASSEE -- A Florida law that lets students from failing public schools attend private religious schools at taxpayers' expense is unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled Monday.

The 2 to 1 decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal upholds an August 2002 ruling by a trial judge, who said the law violates the separation of church and state and a provision of the state constitution that bans the use of tax dollars for religious schools.

The state has been allowed to issue vouchers during its appeal. That is likely to remain true until the Florida Supreme Court decides the case.

Under the 1999 law, the centerpiece of Gov. Jeb Bush's education policies, students attending public schools that earn failing grades two years out of four are eligible for vouchers to attend private schools.

About 600 students in a handful of counties attended private schools using vouchers last year. Voucher students at the schools can be taught religion but cannot be forced to pray, worship or profess a religious belief.

Voucher opponents, including the state's teachers union, the Florida PTA and the NAACP, challenged the law in court the day after Bush signed it in 1999.

At Least Two Killed as Storm

Causes Flooding in Mojave Desert

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- A fierce storm triggered flooding in the Mojave Desert that killed at least two people and forced the closure of Death Valley National Park. Campers and visitors were evacuated from the park Monday.

The intense thunderstorm struck Sunday night, closing roads, stranding vehicles and knocking out power and water. A day later, the bodies of two people remained in a vehicle stuck in mud, rock and debris, officials said. "We haven't been able to remove them yet," park spokeswoman Roxanne Dey said.

California Highway Patrol and National Park Service helicopters spotted at least eight other vehicles off highways and dirt roads. Officials said they could not immediately tell if they were occupied.

"We're trying to account for all the visitors who were here," Death Valley Superintendent J.T. Reynolds said.

Visitors to the 200-room Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort and 20 people staying at a nearby campground were escorted by state police out of the park, Reynolds said.

He said rangers were unsure if backcountry campers or hikers might have been caught in the flooding.

Reynolds said water and sewer lines were severed, and the park would be closed at least two days and possibly through the weekend. The last time the park closed that long was in 1985, he said.

A California highway that serves as the main road between the eastern Sierra and Nevada was closed for 130 miles, to near the Nevada state line. Another highway was closed to Shoshone, Calif.

-- From News Services