Nation briefs 04/11/03

House endorses drilling in Alaska wildlife refuge

WASHINGTON -- The House on Thursday night endorsed oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, setting up a likely confrontation with the Senate as Congress struggles to produce a comprehensive energy policy.

An attempt to strip a House energy bill of a provision that would allow development of the refuge's oil was rejected 228-197. Drilling opponents argued more oil could be saved with higher auto fuel economy requirements than the refuge could produce.

Earlier, the House turned back a proposal to require a 5 percent reduction in fuel used by motor vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks, within seven years. Opponents to the measure said it would force automakers to make small cars.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sponsor of the anti-drilling amendment, criticized "going to a pristine area in the Arctic and drilling" and then putting the oil "into SUVs that get 10 to 13 miles a gallon." If lawmakers are unwilling to improve auto fuel economy "we have no right to jeopardize a pristine wilderness that should be preserved for the next generation," he said.

Maker of 'Girls Gone Wild' videos faces charges

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- The man who makes "Girls Gone Wild" videos is facing sex- and drug-related charges after parents complained to police that he told minors to lie about their age on camera.

Joe Francis, chief executive of Mantra Entertainment, was arrested last week after searches of five locations and a private jet turned up videotapes that corroborated the stories of four 17-year-old girls and a 16-year-old, police said. In the "Girls Gone Wild" videos, college-age women bare their breasts while partying.

Francis, 30, was charged with drug trafficking and racketeering related to prostitution. He could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted on both counts. He has denied the charges.

Wal-Mart suspends sales of toy guns in New York

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Wal-Mart suspended sales of toy guns in its New York stores on Thursday after the state sued, accusing the retailer of selling toys that lack required safety markings to distinguish them from real weapons.

The toy guns have orange caps on their barrels, as required by federal law, but they don't have nonremoveable orange stripes down the barrel's length as New York law requires, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's lawsuit contends. Safety experts say the brightly colored markings help police officers distinguish toy guns from real weapons, and that the stripes are important because the plastic barrel caps can fall off or be removed.

"In our continued efforts to be a responsible retailer, we have made the decision to suspend sales of all toy cap guns in New York," Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said in a statement Thursday.

State fines owners of burned R.I. nightclub

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- State labor officials issued a fine of more than $1 million against owners of a nightclub where a fire killed 99 people in February because the company failed to get workers' compensation insurance.

The Department of Labor and Training also referred the case Wednesday to the attorney general for criminal prosecution. Attorney General Patrick Lynch said he was evaluating possible charges.

The labor department fined brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian the maximum $1,000 a day for the nearly three years they owned the club for failure to carry insurance as required by law. The amount comes to a little over $1 million.-- From wire reports