Reservists' Health

Coverage Extended

The House voted early yesterday to extend the health coverage of reservists, reflecting the longer periods of active duty being required of National Guard and reserve members.

The legislation, approved by voice vote, would increase from 18 months to 24 months the maximum period during which reservists covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act can continue employer-sponsored health care coverage.

The bill would also strengthen lease-termination protections enacted into law last year for the dependents of service members who are given military orders to move.

Another provision outlines civil penalties for fiduciaries who misuse the assets of service members.

$14 Billion Disaster Aid

Package to Senate

Top congressional Republicans must decide the fate of a $14 billion package for victims of hurricanes and drought, with the approach of Election Day leaving both parties in particularly generous moods.

The House approved the measure 412 to 0 Wednesday in a vote that underlined the bill's political impact. Its $11 billion in hurricane aid and $2.9 billion in farm assistance would go largely to Florida, a pivotal electoral state, and to battleground farm states in the Midwest such as Ohio.

"Let's get on with rebuilding a great state," said Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), a chief author of the bill who was eager to bring funds home to a state staggered by four hurricanes in six weeks this summer.

First, though, the Senate must decide whether to approve the House measure. While passage before the election seems likely, many senators want more generous disaster aid or oppose the $2.9 billion in cuts to a land-conservation program that the House had approved to finance the drought assistance.

After weeks of opposing a $3 billion drought package approved by the GOP-run Senate as too costly, House Republicans finally advanced their own $2.9 billion proposal and added it to the hurricane measure by voice vote. Though President Bush has not requested drought aid, the White House may prove reluctant to scuttle a package this close to the election.

Border Patrol Stations

Upgrade Technology

Moving to fix a long-standing problem, the government has equipped all 136 Border Patrol stations and about a third of U.S. ports of entry with electronic fingerprint readers and software that can check FBI criminal history records within minutes.

During installation from Oct. 1, 2003, through Aug. 31 of this year, the new system was responsible for Border Patrol arrests of 8,005 criminal suspects trying to enter the United States, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said at a news conference. But he acknowledged that none of these were arrested for terrorism-related crimes.

"This technology helps U.S. Customs and Border Protection shed light on those with criminal backgrounds we could never have identified before," Bonner said at the session where agents demonstrated the new system. Those arrested were suspected of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, assault or narcotics violations.

-- From News Services