News In Brief

The first class-action lawsuit by smokers that has actually gone to trial brought a verdict that could cost the tobacco industry hundreds of billions of dollars. A jury in Miami found that cigarettemakers had produced a defective product that can cause a number of serious illnesses. The jury will determine damages in the next phase of a trial stemming from a lawsuit filed in 1994 on behalf of as many as 500,000 smokers and heirs of smokers.

A federal commission has concluded the US is unprepared for the threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons being spread around the world, The (Baltimore) Sun reported. The panel, headed by former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Deutch, was created by Congress 18 months ago to study potential threats and how US agencies would respond. The article said a summary of the commission's report, expected to be released next week, urges the president to name a national director to combat proliferation.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has agreed to a Republican proposal to consolidate in one semiautonomous agency a vast complex of nuclear laboratories and plants, The Washington Post reported. The agency would be in the Energy Department under Richardson's control, the article said.

A third of the nation's atomic power plants still have Y2K computer problems to resolve, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported. It noted, however, that all of the 103 plants say none of the remaining work involves "the ability ... to shut down safely, if needed."

Six Western governors threw their support behind George W. Bush, the 2000 GOP presidential front-runner. Bush was at a rally in Salt Lake City with the Republican governors of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada when the announcement was made.

Top House Republicans proposed major tax breaks for investors. Bill Archer, chairman of the Ways and Means panel, said the package would reduce the top capital-gains tax rate on investment profits to 15 percent from 20 percent, retroactive to July 1. It would also lower the rate for taxpayers in the lowest income-tax bracket to 7.5 percent from 10 percent, he said.

Charges were filed against an Illinois man for allegedly selling white supremacist Benjamin Smith the guns he used to kill two men and wound several others in a shooting spree last weekend. Donald Fiessinger of Pekin, Ill., was charged with dealing in firearms without a license, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, US officials said.

Russ Verney said he would not seek reelection as chairman of the Reform Party later this month. Verney said the decision wasn't influenced "in the least" by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who has threatened to distance himself from the party unless it embraces his choice as chairman. Ventura, a former professional wrestler, was elected governor last year as a Reform Party candidate.

Dr. Bernadine Healy will be named director of the American Red Cross, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The former director of the National Institutes of Health would replace Elizabeth Dole, who stepped down in January to run for president.

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