Nation briefs 2/26/04

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Crews move sunken ship, but Mississippi still closed

NEW ORLEANS -- Salvage crews Wednesday moved a wrecked ship that was blocking the only channel used by heavy vessels traveling the lower Mississippi River, but the waterway was not immediately reopened. The Coast Guard said ships would have to wait until authorities evaluated whether dredging would be needed to clear the channel. Fifty-two ships are waiting to enter the Gulf of Mexico and 51 others are in the gulf waiting to move upriver. The 178-foot supply boat Lee III sank in the river's main shipping channel Saturday after colliding with a container ship.

Survey finds Ecstasy use by teens declining

NEW YORK -- Teenagers' use of Ecstasy dropped 25 percent over the past two years, a decrease that translates into an additional 770,000 teens rejecting the once-trendy drug, a study found. The study, released Wednesday by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, also found that teen drug use overall had declined, especially involving marijuana, LSD and methamphetamine, researchers said.

Court: States can deny money to divinity students

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court, in a new rendering on separation of church and state, voted Wednesday to let states withhold scholarships from students studying theology. The court's 7-2 ruling held that the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister. That holding applies even when money is available to students studying anything else. The case is a departure from recent church-state fights in which the Supreme Court has gradually allowed greater state sponsorship of religious activities.

N.M. governor declares state of emergency

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Gov. Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency in part of New Mexico as a winter storm left roads virtually impassable, closed schools and blanketed one town with 13 inches of snow. Richardson's declaration signed late Tuesday freed up about $750,000 to help cover overtime costs for road crews, police and emergency workers, said Pahl Shipley, a spokesman for the governor. The worst of the snow and rain was across northern, eastern and central New Mexico. Truckers and other travelers packed truck stops and hotels and some utility customers lost power. State employees were sent home early and Los Alamos National Laboratory closed for the day.

-- From wire reports

Senate ready to wade into gun issues with bill

WASHINGTON -- A Republican-led bill to shield gun manufacturers and distributors from lawsuits arising from gun crimes passed its first Senate test Wednesday, but Democrats plan to complicate its future by forcing votes on extending an assault weapons ban and requiring background checks on purchasers at gun shows. The Senate, with a 75-22 test vote, showed that there is enough support from both parties to get gunmaker immunity legislation through, but Democrats plan to try and add their gun legislation to the package before it heads to the House. Democrats want "provisions that will close the gun show loophole, that would reauthorize the ban on assault weapons," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. "We should require effective safety locks on handguns. We should improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check system."

FBI suspected McVeigh link to Okla. robbers

WASHINGTON -- The FBI believed Timothy McVeigh tried to recruit additional help in the days before the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and gathered evidence that white supremacist bank robbers may have become involved, according to government documents never introduced at McVeigh's trial. The retired FBI chief of the Oklahoma City investigation, Dan Defenbaugh, said he was unaware of some evidence obtained by The Associated Press and that the investigation should be reopened to determine whether the robbery gang was linked to McVeigh. McVeigh's ex-lawyer said the evidence obtained by the AP is the strongest to date to show what he has argued for years -- that the bombing conspiracy may have involved more people than McVeigh and Nichols.

-- From wire reports

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