BILLINGS, Mont.: Legislature condemns Patriot Act

Montanans may have voted for Bush, but the Legislature here doesn’t like his administration’s USA Patriot Act, the 2001 federal law many see as an attack on the Bill of Rights, especially the right to privacy. In an April 15 vote, the House, by an 88–12 margin, joined the state Senate in approving a resolution blunting the act’s effects. The Legislature takes one more vote before the measure becomes state policy.

Resolution sponsor Jim Elliot said it encourages state agencies to not participate in investigations authorized under the Patriot Act, mandates libraries to post signs warning patrons that the federal government may secretly seize records of their reading habits, and requests the state attorney general to find out how many Montanans have been victimized by “seek and peeks,” government searches of private property without the owner’s knowledge. One of the strongest provisions asks state officials to destroy “intelligence” gathered on Montanans who have not been indicted for criminal activity.

Montana is one of five states to take state action to reject and control the Patriot Act. As of April 18, 378 municipalities, encompassing 57 million people, have taken similar measures.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.: Protest weakening of lead standards

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer on April 5 demanded that Stephen Johnson, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), be stopped from scrapping rules on lead paint.

Late last year, Johnson rescinded EPA rules requiring certified contractors to remove lead paint in older apartment buildings and homes. The rules, in effect since 1978, mandate that residences be lead-free by 2010. Johnson wants to replace lead requirements with voluntary compliance.

New York City has the highest percentage of older buildings and its children have twice the national average of lead poisoning, which destroys brain function.

“EPA’s failure to issue lead-safe renovation regulations is a breach of the public trust,” Spitzer said in a letter to federal officials, “and presents a significant and avoidable threat to tenants and homeowners.”

Illinois reports the highest number of lead poisoned children in the country. Madigan demanded that the EPA restore and strengthen lead standards.

THREE RIVERS, Texas: Hometown honors hero

In June 1945, near the end of World War II, Private Felix Longoria was killed while on volunteer patrol in the Philippine Islands. It took four years to identify his body and return his remains to his family here. The owner of Rice Manor, the local funeral home, refused to allow the family its use solely because Longoria was Mexican American.

The incident sparked a national protest and forced the federal government to allow Longoria’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. But his hometown remained silent.

On April 16, 55 years later, residents here held a march to recognize Longoria, protest racism and demand that “lawmakers embrace this incident for the historical and educational value it serves our community.”

The ceremony remembering Longoria included a 21-gun salute, a City Council proclamation and remarks by Angela Mejia, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.: Deaths blamed on privatized jails

Teresa Morris’ family does not believe the 53-year-old diabetic serving time in Tutweiler prison here died of natural causes March 6.

Morris’ mother, Betty Peters, 72, found her with her legs so swollen that the shackles cut into her skin. “They wouldn’t take the shackles off her legs and her legs were so swollen,” Peters said. “They were as big as my head. She was still warm, so I kissed her and held her hand.”

Another family of a Tutweiler inmate does not buy the report by Prison Health Services (PHS), the nation’s largest for-profit prison health care company, that 42-year-old Edna Britt died of a “terminal illness.” Britt died following a mastectomy. She had been placed in a disciplinary cell during her recovery.

PHS has a $143-million contract with the state to provide health care, but families, attorneys and state investigators have gone to court charging that the company does not provide adequate treatment or medications.

Alabama had contracted with Naphcare, but numerous deaths resulted in successful lawsuits. The state hired PHS in 2003. New York State is also investigating PHS.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards. Terrie Albano and Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s clips.