News In Brief

The Federal Reserve slashed the federal-funds rate, the interest banks charge each other, by a half-point to 5 percent. It was the third half-point slash this year made in an effort to keep the US economy afloat. The cuts since January have marked the Fed's most aggressive rate-reduction effort in 16 years, economists said. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan also warned that spending cuts by manufacturers could continue throughout the year and that weak world economies may hinder US growth. Economists said he hinted at a possible fourth rate cut before May. Above, traders Dante Federighti (r.) and Mark Stern (front, center) watch at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as Greenspan announces the latest cut.

The Senate voted 70 to 30 to ease campaign fundraising limits on candidates for office who face wealthy rivals. If the measure becomes law, it would create the first exemptions to the $1,000 limit on individual contributions to candidates in any one election since that cap was enacted in 1974. That limit is a cornerstone of the current campaign-finance system. The legislation comes after four Democrats spent millions of dollars apiece in personal funds to win Senate seats last November.

The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that hospitals cannot test pregnant women for evidence of drug use without their consent and then turn the results over to police. The majority said that such drug testing by a South Carolina public hospital violated the Constitution even though the goal was to prevent women from harming their fetuses by using crack cocaine or other banned substances. Such tests require a search warrant or consent, the majority said.

The justices also ruled 5 to 4 that employers can force workers to take job-related disputes to arbitration rather than to court. Agreements to arbitrate workplace disputes are enforceable even if an employer required a worker to sign an agreement in order to be hired, the majority ruled. Arbitration supporters say that process is less complicated than a lawsuit, but critics argue it can tilt toward employers.

The Bush administration said it will rescind new standards for arsenic in drinking water and propose to lift requirements on mining interests in further challenges to environmental regulations issued by ex-President Clinton. The Interior Department said it would seek to undo regulations forcing more hard-rock miners in Western states to post cleanup bonds. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency suspended standards aimed at reducing levels of cancer-causing arsenic in 3,000 municipal water systems, primarily in the Rocky Mountains, in order to review them. Mining runoff was identified as a source of the contamination.

In an effort to prevent a repeat of last November's election fiasco, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris unveiled an almost $200 million reform package of updated technology and standardized ballots. Optical scanners, a statewide ballot format, and video voting topped her list of suggestions.

One in 9 Americans said drugs and alcohol are the most important problems in their communities, a new survey found. Three-fourths of respondents told the Pew Research Center they think the US is losing the war on drugs. But they said arresting drug dealers and stopping importation should be the government's top priorities in fighting the problem.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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