WASHINGTON — U.S. troops and other American voters overseas will get more time to send in their ballots and more electronic access to voting forms under legislation Congress passed Thursday. The bill, called the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, aims to remove some of the hurdles that have caused thousands of overseas ballots to be lost or uncounted in past elections. The legislation would require that states provide military and other overseas voters with ballots at least 45 days ahead of an election to ensure there is enough time to complete and return them.
Bears will get ‘critical habitat’
The Obama administration said Thursday it is designating more than 200,000 square miles in Alaska and off its coast as “critical habitat” for polar bears, an action that could add restrictions to future offshore drilling for oil and gas. Federal law prohibits agencies from taking actions that may adversely affect critical habitat and interfere with polar bear recovery. Assistant Interior Secretary Tom Strickland called the habitat designation a step in the right direction to help polar bears stave off extinction, while recognizing that the greatest threat to the bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change.
Hate crime protection for gays
Physical attacks on people based on their sexual orientation will join the list of federal hate crimes in a major expansion of the civil rights-era law Congress approved Thursday and sent to President Barack Obama. A priority of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., that had been on the congressional agenda for a decade, the measure expands current law to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The measure is named for Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student murdered 11 years ago.
Kansas: Overweight patients
As America battles the obesity crisis, ambulance companies increasingly are charging extra to transport patients who weigh several hundred pounds. Moving plus-sized people can cost more than twice the amount of transporting patients who are not obese because of the expensive equipment and extra workers needed. The ambulance companies say it’s time for insurance providers, Medicaid, Medicare or patients themselves to pay the added costs, which are cutting into companies’ razor-thin profit margins.
New York: Charges for Hulu
News Corp. says that Hulu, its jointly owned free online video site, will start charging fees for access at some point in the future. News Corp.’s president, said Wednesday subscription fees could come as early as 2010. News Corp. said it hasn’t decided what form the subscription model would take and right now is concentrating on delivering a good experience for users. Hulu has struggled to make money despite its popularity as an ad-supported online site for TV shows and movies.
Pennsylvania: Dead in trash
Police in Philadelphia said a homeless man sleeping in a trash bin wound up in the back of a garbage truck and was killed by the vehicle’s compactor. Investigators said the truck collected the contents of the trash bin at about 4 a.m. Wednesday in North Philadelphia. The truck’s driver activated the compactor a little later. Police said the driver told officers he thought he heard someone say, “Yo! Yo! Yo!” but did not know where the voice was coming from.
Minnesota: Bong water woes
In Minnesota, bong water can count as an illegal drug. That decision from Minnesota’s Supreme Court on Thursday raises the threat of longer sentences for drug smokers in that state who fail to dump the water out of bong — a type of water pipe often used to smoke drugs The court said a person can be prosecuted for a first-degree drug crime for 25 grams or more of bong water that tests positive for a controlled substance.
Kenya: Pirates seize ship
Somali pirates with automatic weapons seized a cargo ship off Africa’s east coast and are holding its 26 crew members from India and Myanmar hostage, anti-piracy officials said Thursday. The pirates captured the Panamanian-flagged MV Al Khaliq some 200 miles west of the Seychelles islands early Thursday, a statement from the European Union’s anti-piracy task force said. Seychelles said Thursday it would deploy troops to its outer islands as a deterrent force to approaching pirate vessels.
From Herald news services