Nation briefs 3/9/04

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Gasoline prices a penny short of historic high

WASHINGTON -- The average retail price of gasoline climbed 2 cents last week to $1.74 per gallon, the Energy Department said Monday, about a penny shy of the highest price since the department began collecting data. Together, the high prices for crude oil, strong demand and low commercial inventories made gasoline expensive this winter. Analysts expect those same trends to be in place this summer, the peak driving season. Also, this is the time of year when supplies tend to tighten as refineries shut down temporarily for maintenance before ramping up production of special blends of cleaner-burning gasoline for summer. The average nationwide price of regular unleaded gasoline was $1.738 for the week ending March 8 -- 2.1 cents higher than the previous week, the EIA said Monday.

Analysts: Little economic effect from Bush's budget

WASHINGTON -- The tax cuts and other policies President Bush proposed in his $2.4 trillion budget would probably have a minimal impact on the economy, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday. In its annual report on the president's budget, the agency that provides fiscal analysis for lawmakers said Bush's proposals could either increase or reduce economic output through 2009, and improve it in the following five years. "However, the differences are likely to be small, affecting output by less than one-half of one percentage point on average," the study said. The conclusion by the budget office comes in the early stages of Bush's re-election campaign, in which the core of his plan for strengthening the economy has been his call to make earlier tax cuts permanent.

Mother reunites with daughter thought dead

PHILADELPHIA -- A 6-year-old girl who was allegedly kidnapped as a newborn and was thought to have died in a fire was returned to her mother Monday. Luzaida Cuevas, 31, and the child she named Delimar Vera were officially reunited Monday afternoon at state family services offices in Burlington County, N.J., the mother's attorney, Alexander Murphy Jr., said in a statement. Police allege that a relative, Carolyn Correa, snatched the 10-day-old girl from her crib in December 1997, torched the house to cover her crime and raised the infant as her own. Cuevas said she instantly recognized the girl as her daughter at a Jan. 24 birthday party. DNA tests established that Cuevas and Pedro Vera were the girl's biological parents, police said.

Officer pleads innocent in shooting of black teen

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager pleaded innocent Monday to charges of murder and wanton endangerment. Officer McKenzie Mattingly, 31, was indicted Friday and entered his plea in a courtroom. The family of the victim, 19-year-old Michael Newby, was also there. A judge set bail at $25,000. Newby was the seventh black man fatally shot by Louisville police in the past five years, and the shooting raised racial tensions in Louisville. Police have described the Jan. 3 shooting as an undercover drug buy gone bad between the officer and Newby, who was shot in the back. Mattingly could get 20 years to life in prison on the murder charge if convicted.

UCLA acknowledges sale of body parts; families sue

LOS ANGELES -- Officials at the University of California, Los Angeles, acknowledged Monday that parts of bodies donated for medical research there had instead been sold, and apologized for a failure in oversight. Donors' families, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming the director of the university's Willed Body Program had been selling body parts illegally for years with the knowledge of other UCLA officials. UCLA has denied knowing about the sales. The director, Henry Reid, was arrested along with another man accused of helping to sell the body parts. UCLA officials admitted Monday that some body parts were sold to companies, but said they were only used for medical research. They promised to revamp the cadaver program.

Supreme Court won't hear Boy Scouts appeal

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal from the Boy Scouts over what the organizations claims is discrimination because of its policy against hiring gays. The case revisited the gay rights fight surrounding the high court's ruling four years ago that the Boy Scouts have the right to ban openly homosexual scout leaders. This time, the question was whether states may treat the Scouts differently than other organizations because of that policy. The Scouts asked the justices to hear a case from Connecticut, where officials dropped the group from a list of charities that receive donations through a state employee payroll deduction plan. That's unconstitutional discrimination, the Boy Scouts argued.

-- From wire reports

"To exclude the Boy Scouts from a forum based on their values they hold and the conduct they require of their members is to exclude Boy Scouts based on viewpoint and identity," lawyers for the Scouts argued in their Supreme Court appeal.

The Scouts took in about $10,000 annually from the employee charity campaign, the filing said.

The Boy Scouts are pursuing a similar court fight in San Diego, where city officials want to evict the group from a park where the organization runs a youth aquatic center. The Bush administration sided with the Scouts in that case last week.

Connecticut officials also raised the issue of discrimination to explain why the Scouts were dropped from the State Employee Campaign Committee in 2000.

A state human rights commission had found that including the Boy Scouts of America in the employee donation program would violate Connecticut's gay rights law, state Connecticut attorney General Richard Blumenthal argued to the high court.

The gay rights law prohibits the state from "becoming a party to any agreement, arrangement or plan which has the effect of sanctioning discrimination," the state's legal filing said.

A federal appeals court ruled last year that Connecticut did not violate the Scouts' First Amendment rights. The Connecticut policy was intended more to protect gays than to silence the views of groups like the Scouts, the court said in upholding then ruling of a lower federal judge.

The American Legion, Campus Crusade for Christ and numerous other organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Boy Scouts.

"Permitting this decision to stand would open the door for other governmental action that seeks to advance a political agenda by forcing those who oppose it to relinquish their constitutionally protected views, beliefs and practices in exchange for a government benefit that was otherwise available," lawyers a Catholic public interest law firm, the Thomas More Law Center, argued.

The case is Boy Scouts of America v. Wyman, 03-956.

-- From wire reports

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