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House votes in favor of $3,100 pay raise

The House yesterday agreed to allow an automatic $3,100 pay raise for Congress next year, to $165,200, after defeating an effort to roll it back. In a 263-to-152 vote -- with all Massachusetts members in favor -- the House blocked a bid to force an up-or-down vote on the raise. (AP)

Government seeks $14b tobacco penalty

Rejecting criticism from Democrats and anti-smoking advocates, the government asked a federal judge to impose $14 billion in penalties in the racketeering trial against major tobacco companies. The cigarette makers yesterday said they would ask US District Judge Gladys Kessler to throw out the proposed remedies. Prosecutors drew opposition this month when they slashed the size of a $130 billion stop-smoking plan. (AP)

Passport system test said to miss fugitives

A test of the federal system for processing passport applications failed to detect the names of more than 30 fugitives, including nine murder suspects and a person on the FBI's most-wanted list, The New York Times reported today, citing an audit by the Government Accountability Office. A hearing was scheduled today before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

GEORGIA

Denomination leader backs gay marriage

ATLANTA -- The head of the United Church of Christ yesterday publicly endorsed a church resolution supporting same sex marriage for the first time. The Rev. John H. Thomas said the church's General Synod should affirm the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender persons to have marriages ''equal in name, privileges, and responsibilities to married heterosexual couples." A vote on the proposal is expected this weekend. (AP)

TEXAS

Grand jury clears diocese in Dallas

DALLAS -- A grand jury found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the way the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The grand jury was impaneled to help determine whether Bishop Charles Grahmann and his staff had received allegations of abuse by clergy that were not reported to police. (AP)

NEW YORK

Newsday ex-publisher charged in porn case

NEW YORK -- A former Newsday publisher who once served on a state education board has been charged with possessing child pornography taken off the Internet, authorities said yesterday. Robert Johnson, 59, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court and was released after posting a $500,000 bond and agreeing to have his home computer monitored and to continue a counseling program. His lawyer said Johnson was not involved in child pornography. (AP)

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