Mexican truck case heard in high court

WASHINGTON — A Bush administration lawyer told the Supreme Court yesterday that President Bush must be able to open U.S. roads to Mexican trucks without delays for an environmental study.

But a lawyer for labor and environmental organizations cautioned justices that "we're talking about tens of thousands of trucks" packing U.S. roads after a two-decade moratorium ends.

Some of those trucks are older and may be pollution-causing safety hazards, said the organizations' lawyer, Jonathan Weissglass.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was a lead negotiator on a 2002 measure that would allow Mexican trucks to use U.S. highways with limited safety regulations. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered an environmental review two months later.

The 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by the United States, Mexico and Canada allowed Mexican trucks to eventually use U.S. roads. Trucks are limited now to commercial border zones, while details are sorted out.

Bush ordered opening all roads to the trucks in 2002, but the dispute has been tied up in courts.

"It has frustrated the president's ability to comply with NAFTA," justices were told by government lawyer Edwin Kneedler.

Senators agree to support crime-victims rights bill

Unable to line up support for a constitutional amendment, senators yesterday instead agreed to back legislation giving broad new rights to crime victims.

The bill would guarantee crime victims the right to notification of significant events in the fate of the accused, including parole proceedings and plea bargains. Victims also would win the right to be "reasonably protected" from the accused, according to a description of the measure obtained by The Associated Press.

The legislation — which comes during National Crime Victims' Rights Week — is expected to encounter much less opposition in the closely divided Senate because it doesn't affect the Constitution.

"I expect an overwhelming vote," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said after announcing a vote today.

Montana senator's wife accused of assault

The wife of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was accused yesterday of hitting a woman in a dispute over mulch at a garden center, police said.

Wanda Baucus, 56, was arraigned in D.C. Superior Court on a charge of simple assault, a misdemeanor, and released on her own recognizance under condition that she stay away from the other woman and the store. The incident took place Tuesday; Baucus turned herself in yesterday.

Baucus apparently was upset she did not receive help loading the mulch into her car while the other woman was being assisted, a police spokesman said.

Witnesses told police that Baucus put a bag of mulch behind the woman's car, preventing her from leaving the store, and that after exchanging words, allegedly struck the woman several times, police said.

Also ...

The National Council of Churches, which represents 50 million people in 140,000 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations, is sending a scathing letter to President Bush to coincide with Earth Day today, accusing his administration of chipping away at the Clean Air Act. ... The House voted unanimously yesterday to let financially pinched National Guard and Reserve troops tap into retirement savings without penalty.