Lautenberg, Lott

push Amtrak bill

WASHINGTON - Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and Trent Lott (R., Miss.) began a second effort yesterday to pass a bill that sets ambitious funding targets for Amtrak while requiring the passenger railroad to become more efficient.

The bill, similar to one the Senate passed, 93-6, last year but the House never voted on, would authorize $3.2 billion a year for Amtrak for the next six years. That includes direct funding of $1.9 billion and $1.3 billion in bond authority. Amtrak received $1.3 billion from Congress for the 2006 fiscal year.

The bill calls on Amtrak to cut operating expenses by 40 percent.- AP

Expedited security

plan in use at JFK

NEW YORK - Travelers at John F. Kennedy International Airport may clear security in minutes under a Transportation Security Administration-approved program that expedites the normal screening process.

The Clear Registered Traveler program lets passengers use designated speed lanes and forgo secondary screening with handheld scanners. Users pay about $100 in fees and undergo criminal background checks and iris and finger scans for a year's membership in Clear.

The program started yesterday at JFK Terminal 7 and is to be available within the next month at JFK Terminal 1, and at the airports in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and San Jose. The Orlando, Fla., airport has used it since 2005. Customers may register at participating airline terminals or at www.flyclear.com.

- Bloomberg News

Man charged amid

racial tensions

MARINETTE, Wis. - A white man was charged yesterday with murdering a Hmong hunter in the woods in a slaying that rekindled racial tensions in Wisconsin and raised fears among Southeast Asian immigrants that the killing was payback.

Authorities said James Nichols, 28, shot and stabbed Cha Vang, 30, whose body was found Jan. 6 in a wildlife refuge where both were hunting squirrels. District Attorney Brent DeBord gave no motive for the killing; Vang's family said it appeared to be racially motivated.

Two years ago, a Hmong deer hunter, now serving life terms, shot six white hunters to death after being accused of trespassing in the Wisconsin woods. He said they had shouted racial epithets and opened fire first. After Vang's slaying, Hmong community members voiced fear that it was retaliation for the earlier killings. - AP

Elsewhere:

Freshman Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.), a Vietnam War veteran, will deliver the official Democratic response Tuesday to President Bush's State of the Union address, in which the Iraq war is expected to be a central topic.

A morning radio show on KDND-FM in Sacramento, Calif., was pulled off the air after a 28-year-old woman died last week trying to win a Nintendo Wii during a water-drinking contest.

The National Weather Service will stop issuing countywide severe weather warnings this fall, instead putting out more geographically specific warnings.