News In Brief

President Clinton and congressional Democrats were to unveil their legislative agenda for 1999. It closely tracks the president's State of the Union address, calling for modernized schools and making local school systems more accountable, a "patients' bill of rights" for health care, expanded pension benefits, a higher minimum wage, more police officers to fight crime, and several small, targeted tax reductions.

A storm slammed into the Northwestern US with high winds and towering waves, flooding coastal areas, knocking out power to more than 200,000 customers, and shutting down ferry service across Puget Sound in Washington State. Another storm system swept across the South with hail and tornadoes. One person was reported killed in Washington and one in Alabama.

The House voted to free up $470 million in guaranteed loans to farmers. The money would ordinarily become available April 1. Backers described the bill as a temporary measure until Congress can approve a Clinton request for $1.1 billion in new lending power for the Agriculture Department. The agency has been authorized to loan $2.8 billion to farmers - but the money is running out, creating a credit crunch.

A $500-million loan program to help small businesses prepare computers for the new millennium was approved unanimously by the Senate. Loans would also be available if suppliers, customers, or creditors had Y2K computer problems.

Lamar Alexander named former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad chairman of his national campaign, adding a veteran GOP figure to his 2000 presidential bid and embracing an important ally in a strategic state. Branstad was Iowa's governor for 16 years before deciding not to seek a fifth term last year. Alexander plans to make his candidacy official next week in Nashville, Tenn.

Women prisoners in the US are subject to serious sexual abuse, including rape and being sold as "sex slaves" to male inmates, Amnesty International said. The cause of the problem is the large number of male guards in women's prisons and their unrestricted access to women's cells, the human-rights group said. Many Western nations follow UN standards that say female prisoners should be closely supervised only by women.

Public schools must pay for professional nurses to accompany some disabled students during the school day, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of an Iowa teenager. The court, by a 7-to-2 vote, said such care isn't medical treatment and thus must be publicly funded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Some California environmentalists reacted negatively to a last-minute $480 million accord to protect one of the largest remaining forests of the state's ancient redwoods. State and US officials agreed to buy 12 square miles of the Headwaters Forest and some other groves from the Pacific Lumber Co. and set them aside for the public. The agreement, concluding more than a decade of talks, also imposes restrictions for 50 years on 330 square miles of redwoods that Pacific Lumber still owns.

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