News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
Bill Curbs Lawsuits Over Child Vaccines
A provision shielding drug companies from liability for making childhood vaccines that contain a mercury-based preservative almost held up passage of the homeland-security bill last week.
Several class actions have been filed in recent years by parents and other activists who believe that the vaccine preservative caused autism in children. Recent studies have thrown doubt on that suspected linkage. ("New Study Discounts Autism-Vaccine Linkage," Nov. 20, 2002.)
Lawmakers inserted the vaccine measure and other disputed items into the House version of the bill at the last minute, sparking opposition when the bill to establish a federal Department of Homeland Security arrived in the Senate.
An amendment introduced by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., and Tom Daschle, D- S.D., sought to remove the vaccine provision, along with six other items they deemed "acts of political favoritism."
The amendment failed, 52-47, after Republican leaders reportedly promised that three of the most controversial provisions, including the one on vaccines, would be taken out or significantly watered down next year.
Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, had threatened to vote for the Lieberman-Daschle measure unless Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate made the promise.
—Lisa Fine Goldstein
Federal Aid Boosts Work On New Digital Texts
The Department of Education has chosen the Center for Applied Special Technology to develop a new type of digital file that can present textbooks to students who cannot read printed texts easily, or at all.
The file format would use hidden "tags" that could activate devices such as Braille printers, audible text-readers, and other assistive software run on electronic tablets, e-books, and personal or hand-held computers.
If the file format works and catches on, students with various physical and cognitive disabilities might one day enjoy the full "media equivalent" of a printed textbook, said Skip Stahl, a center official who chairs the project's advisory panel.
The nonprofit research group in Wakefield, Mass., known as CAST, has one year—and $199,911 in federal money—to create the format. Three teams will work together: one representing "print-disabled students," which will propose useful features; a second, of technology experts, will craft the technical specifications; and a third, which includes a legal expert and representatives from textbook publishers, will rule on issues of commercial viability and intellectual property.
Vol. 22, Issue 13, Page 23