- - Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Death Star petition on the White House website has gained enough signatures to merit a response from President Obama’s administration.

The petition, which calls for the administration to “begin construction of a Death Star by 2016, crossed the mark Thursday for 25,000 signatures, which is the level the White House requires before it will respond.”

“By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense,” the petition reads.

Natalie M. from Minneapolis was the 25,000th signature, and it came just one day before the Dec. 14 cutoff for the petition.

SENATE

Bill would cover fertility treatments for some vets

Wounded veterans and their spouses who want to have children could get the government to pay for fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization under legislation beginning to move through Congress in the waning days of the session.

By voice vote, the Senate passed a bill Thursday to update the Veterans Affairs Department’s medical coverage for one of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: trauma to a serviceman’s reproductive organs.

Nearly 2,000 service members suffered such wounds between 2003 and 2011. But when wounded veterans went to the VA for medical help in starting a family, they were told the VA doesn’t provide that kind of care.

A similar bill is pending in the House. Supporters said the Senate’s action increases its chances of becoming law before Congress adjourns.

The chief sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said she has heard from veterans whose marriages have dissolved because of the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to civilian life after severe injury.

“Any service member who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more,” she said.

FLORIDA

Ex-Gov. Crist makes party switch official

ST. PETERSBURG — Former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is now officially a Democrat.

Joined by a gaggle of news media, Mr. Crist on Thursday filed his paperwork at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office in downtown St. Petersburg.

Afterward, Mr. Crist joked with elections workers and held a short news conference outside.

Mr. Crist said he “feels comfortable” as a Democrat but remained mum on whether he would challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

He added there were a few issues he would handle differently than when he was governor - including his signing of a petition banning same-sex marriage. He said Thursday that he wouldn’t sign that petition today.

Mr. Crist was elected governor as a Republican and then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent. He tweeted Friday night that he was becoming a Democrat.

TEXAS

Bush could leave Houston hospital before Christmas

HOUSTON — Ex-President George H.W. Bush can look forward to spending the holidays at home after nearly three weeks in a Houston hospital with a bronchitis-related cough.

Methodist Hospital spokesman George Kovacik said Thursday that Mr. Bush has steadily improved and remains stable as he battles the lingering effects of bronchitis. Mr. Kovacik said Mr. Bush’s treatment now centers on physical therapy to increase his strength.

The spokesman said doctors expect the 88-year-old ex-president to be able to celebrate Christmas at home with his family but no discharge date has been set yet.

Mr. Bush has been in the hospital since Nov. 23. He also was in the hospital for the same cough-related illness for about a week in early November.

Mr. Bush and his wife, Barbara, have homes in Houston and Kennebunkport, Maine.

From wire dispatches and staff reports