USA

In a rare postelection session, the Senate, under Democratic control until January, delayed a vote until today on whether to remove seven Republican-backed provisions from a bill setting up a department of homeland security. Among other things, the additions would protect drug companies from lawsuits over vaccines. They were OK'd by the Republican-dominated House, and any significant change to the legislation would make passage unlikely this year. In addition, the Senate was scheduled to take up terrorism-insurance legislation.

The expanded wiretap and surveillance authority sought by Attorney General Ashcroft to track suspected terrorists is constitutional, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled. The decision overturns a ruling in May by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was ordered to grant the Justice Department the added powers.

The Supreme Court agreed to review its fifth capital-punishment case this term. The justices will consider whether Kevin Wiggins, a mentally retarded man sentenced to die for the murder of an elderly woman, deserves a new trial because his court-appointed defense lawyers did an inadequate job. The high court also agreed to review federal limits on campaign contributions to candidates by North Carolina Right to Life and similar nonprofit advocacy groups.

In a possible Democratic bid to derail one of President Bush's judicial nominees, the Senate debated the appointment of US District Judge Dennis Shedd to an appeals court post. Two other nominees were blocked in committee. Democrats have criticized Shedd's rulings in civil rights and employment discrimination cases as insensitive. Republicans disagree and say the ex-aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina, should be approved in honor of Thurmond, who is retiring after 48 years in office.

Snow, ice, and freezing rain from the first winter storm in New England and New York this season darkened tens of thousands of homes and caused dozens of accidents on the roads. One person died and 10 others were hurt in a crash in Maine, where up to five inches of snow fell. A Connecticut utility official said it could take until tomorrow to repair power lines damaged by the storm, which, at its peak, left more than 130,000 customers without electricity in that state.

Authorities were on the lookout for two escaped prisoners from Kentucky suspected in abductions, a burglary, and several car thefts. One victim, James Hawkins, escaped unhurt after he was tied to a tree in northern Indiana, 40 miles from the site of his kidnapping. A woman seized at a store parking lot in Conway, S.C., remains missing.

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