MONTPELIER, Vt.: State enacts health insurance coverage

After Republican Gov. James Douglas threatened a veto if private insurance companies were eliminated, Vermont’s Legislature passed a bill to provide health insurance to 96 percent of residents by 2010. The state-paid insurance is financed by increasing the cigarette tax and imposing a fee on companies like Wal-Mart that do not provide health care for workers.

The coverage, expected to provide health care to an estimated 25,000 uninsured residents, is similar to that for state workers. The compromise bill keeps 20 to 30 percent of administrative costs and corporate profits in the mix.

LAS VEGAS: Nurses rally for quality health care

Intensive care (ICU) nurse Jeanine Austin is worried. She sometimes has five patients when the ratio for ICU is supposed to be one nurse for every two patients. Recently, she could not help a family fulfill their loved one’s wish for a “do not resuscitate” order because she had too many very sick patients. “I didn’t have a lot of time,” Austin said. “That hurt me a lot.”

Austin joined 200 of her fellow SEIU Local 1107 members for a noon rally May 23. They are demanding a new contract with Valley Health System, owner of the Desert Springs Hospital where Austin works. With patient care on their minds, nurses want improved staffing.

A 2005 University of Nevada, Las Vegas study found that 25 percent of nurses who left the profession did so because they were uncomfortable with patient care. “There are 21,000 nurses in Nevada,” said Desert Springs nurse Christina Schofield. “But they’re working in plastic surgery or selling real estate.”

HARTFORD, Conn.: Lieberman challenged over Iraq war

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman has cast one too many votes supporting the Republican agenda and made one too many speeches defending the Bush administration’s Iraq war. Progressive state Democrats are fielding Ned Lamont in the Aug. 8 primary to challenge the three-term incumbent.

“This is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party,” said Marshall Wittman, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. “It will have repercussions for the 2008 presidential election campaign and whether centrists will feel comfortable within the Democratic Party.”

Besides having received 33 percent of the votes at the state Democratic convention, Lamont is endorsed by and by Democracy for America, a group founded by Howard Dean.

ST. GEORGE, Utah: Test scuttled after downwinders protest

After widespread protests, the federal government said May 29 it is “postponing indefinitely” a planned explosion of a 700 ton ammonium nitrate bomb next month at the Nevada Test Site. Fearing the test would stir up radioactive material from earlier nuclear weapons tests, residents downwind petitioned their congressional representatives to halt the explosion.

In just two weeks St. George residents garnered over 600 signatures. Organizer Helene Stone said a delegation delivered the petitions to the offices of U.S. Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch.

“You can still be a great American and protest bomb tests,” said Utah organizer Michelle Thomas. “I don’t see a conflict with wanting to stay alive.”

Idaho is also downwind. J. Preston Truman, who leads a group in Gem County petitioning their senators to stop the explosion, said his neighbors attribute many health problems, including cancer, to the open-air nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s.

NEWPORT, Ind.: Army resumes destruction of deadly nerve gas

Memorial Day in this rural community is usually spent honoring U.S. military personnel killed in the country’s many wars. This year, though, a contractor hired by the Army spent the day restarting destruction of the lethal nerve gas VX.

On May 18, workers found the protective seals had become degraded on one of the two Newport Chemical Depot reactors being used to destroy the VX. Some nerve gas did leak into the atmosphere. Work was halted while the seals were replaced.

Vermillion County, population 16,000, is also home to an Eli Lily medical waste incinerator and two coal-burning electrical generation plants.

The Army says the project to “neutralize” VX will be completed by 2007, after all 250,000 gallons of the resulting caustic wastewater have been shipped to a DuPont plant in New Jersey for final treatment and eventual discharge into the Delaware River.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (