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Specter expected to oppose union bill

In a setback for organized labor, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday he will oppose a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

Specter was the only Republican to support the Employee Free Choice Act two years ago, and unions were hoping he might be the crucial 60th vote needed to overcome an expected GOP filibuster of the measure when it’s taken up this summer.

Specter has faced unusually heavy pressure from both labor and business interests and is likely to face a tough Republican primary challenge next year from former Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Toomey. In a statement, Toomey called Specter’s decision a “flip flop,” prompted by the threat of primary opposition to the five-term senator.

New York

Paterson orders worker layoffs

Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday ordered layoffs that could total about 4 percent of state workers after unions refused concessions amid a staggering economic downturn that was projected to push the state’s deficit to $16 billion in the next year.

Budget Director Laura Anglin told the Associated Press that the layoffs of nearly 9,000 employees would be the first since the late 1990s after unions refused to even provide counterproposals.

It was unclear if the eventual number of layoffs could be offset by attrition or early retirement incentives. Those are among the details that would be worked out in coming weeks.

The layoffs, which Anglin said could save the state $481 million over two years, could begin July 1.

Anglin said unions have been informed and could still try to return to the table in the coming days before a budget is negotiated.


Serial killer eligible for death penalty

A man convicted in a series of random nighttime shootings that terrorized the Phoenix area is eligible for the death penalty, a jury decided Tuesday.

The same jurors found Dale Shawn Hausner guilty on March 13 of murdering six people during the so-called Serial Shooter attacks in 2005 and 2006. They decided he was eligible for the death penalty after listening to testimony Monday from the medical examiner who performed the autopsies on two victims and described the pain they would have felt before they died.

Hausner, 36, sat quietly as the decision was read, looking down and occasionally sipping water.

The jury, which ultimately will decide whether Hausner is condemned, now will hear again from defense attorneys, who are expected to present them with mitigating circumstances in an effort to spare Hausner.


Choke-alerting bird earns local honor

A parrot whose cries of alarm alerted his owner when a little girl choked on her breakfast has been honored as a hero.

Willie, a Quaker parrot, has been given the local Red Cross chapter’s Animal Lifesaver Award.

In November, Willie’s owner, Megan Howard, was baby-sitting for a toddler. Howard left the room and the little girl, Hannah, started to choke on her breakfast.

Willie repeatedly yelled “Mama, baby” and flapped his wings, and Howard returned in time to find the girl already turning blue.

Howard saved Hannah by performing the Heimlich maneuver but said Willie “is the real hero.”

“The part where she turned blue is always when my heart drops no matter how many times I’ve heard it,” Hannah’s mother, Samantha Kuusk, told KCNC-TV.

“My heart drops in my stomach and I get all teary-eyed.”

From wire reports


Top stories in Nation/World

Zimbabwe leader calls assassination attempt ‘cowardly act’

UPDATED: 8:14 p.m.

Zimbabwe’s president was unscathed Saturday by an explosion at a campaign rally that state media called an attempt to assassinate him, later visiting his two injured vice presidents and declaring the “cowardly act” will not disrupt next month’s historic elections.