Nation briefs 051703

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Texas Democrats return to Lone Star State

AUSTIN, Texas -- Runaway Texas Democrats returned to a heroes' welcome at the Capitol on Friday after their self-imposed exile in Oklahoma killed a redistricting bill they hated. Legislative business in the House of Representatives resumed.

The lawmakers stepped up to the Capitol to cheers and applause from like-minded citizens. The Democrats stood momentarily, smiling and waving at the exuberant crowd, some wearing yellow ribbons.

"We've weathered a few things. We've weathered some troopers; we've weathered a tornado, and we weathered Denny's," said Democrat Jim Dunnum, who emerged as the group's ringleader. "No matter what happens, democracy won in this event."

The revolt killed a divisive congressional redistricting bill that would have created more Republican seats.

The 51 exiled Democrats congratulated each other for enduring four days away from a Republican-dominated Texas House chamber and avoiding the reach of state troopers who were ordered to round them up for blocking legislative business. There must be a quorum -- 100 of the 150 House members -- for the House to do business.

Background checks still needed for screeners

WASHINGTON -- About 22,000 of the 55,000 airport screeners hired by the government haven't undergone criminal background checks, the chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee said Friday.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he has told the Transportation Security Administration it must speed up the process to ensure qualified people are doing the work.

Fewer than 1 percent of those checked had a criminal background, Mica said. Not all have been fired, however, even though that would be required under TSA rules.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Congress ordered the federal government to take over the screening duties from private companies at 424 commercial airports. The rules said all screeners would undergo criminal history checks.

Hiring tens of thousands of people proved an enormous task for the TSA, created shortly after the attacks. The lengthy process of completing background checks couldn't be accomplished before the Nov. 19 deadline to have them all in place, Mica said.

Another trailer found with suspected immigrantsHOUSTON -- Eighteen suspected illegal immigrants were found alive in a tractor-trailer at a South Texas truck stop Friday, just two days after the deaths of 18 others who had been crammed into another rig.

None of the people found Friday required hospitalization. They were turned over to immigration authorities and the truck driver was taken into custody.

Separately, the Border Patrol said it had discovered 17 people in a railroad container car Thursday near the Texas-New Mexico state line. They appeared to be in good health despite temperatures estimated at 110 degrees inside the car.

The rest stop where the trailer was found Friday is about 10 miles east of Victoria and about 120 miles southwest of Houston.

FBI: Three people dead in S.C. bank robbery

GREER, S.C. -- Three people were killed Friday afternoon in a robbery at a bank housed in a trailer along an interstate highway, the FBI said.

Investigators were looking for two people in a red sedan in connection with the robbery at Blue Ridge Savings Bank, said FBI spokeswoman Kathleen Murphy.

No victims were identified, and it was unknown whether bank employees, customers or any robbers were among the dead. It was also not immediately known whether any money was taken.

Police cordoned off the bank, located in a trailer along Interstate 85 about halfway between Greenville and Spartanburg. Blue Ridge Savings is based in Asheville, N.C.

-- From wire reports

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