- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Outside the spotlight on grim partisan battles over Medicare and energy policy, Congress quietly reached agreements on less-sweeping bills that will affect people from veterans to veterinarians, and from firefighters to NASCAR fans.

Here is a sample of what will happen under bills that sailed through Congress just before Thanksgiving for President Bush’s signature:

Contact lenses: Patients will gain the right to require their eye doctor to give them their contact-lens prescription, so they can purchase lenses elsewhere. Some doctors had refused, saying that is too risky for patients.

Tornado shelters: Communities will get the option of using their federal Community Development Block Grants to finance tornado-safe shelters in trailer parks. The nation has nearly 9 million manufactured homes — up from 300,000 in 1950.

Nanotechnology: Up to $3.7 billion will be spent in the four-year period beginning in October 2005 on a scientific, engineering and development campaign to manipulate matter on the scale of one-billionth of a meter. Enthusiasts anticipate potentially profitable innovations in health care, farming, manufacturing, environmental management, communications and the military.

Disabled veterans: Grants for their house and car purchases will be expanded.

Philippine veterans: Philippine Scouts from World War II who became U.S. citizens or permanent residents will become eligible for benefits.

Veterans’ relatives: Deceased veterans’ spouses who remarry after age 57 can retain certain benefits. In addition, if a veteran dies while a valid claim is pending, any accrued benefits go to his or her relatives.

Museum of black history: The Smithsonian Institution got permission to choose one of four sites in Washington for its proposed National Museum of African American History and Culture. A requirement that nine of the 19 members of the museum’s board be black was dropped.

Women’s museum: The private, Web-based National Women’s History Museum will be allowed to lease the long-vacant, glass-sided annex of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue five blocks southeast of the White House for its first non-virtual location.

Children’s drugs: The Food and Drug Administration will get back its power to require that drug manufacturers test a drug for its safety and usefulness for children, as well as adults. Last year, a court ruled that the FDA needed express authority from Congress to do that.

Reagan post office: A building at 710 Wick Lane in Billings, Mont., will be designated the Ronald Reagan Post Office Building. The 92-year-old former president’s name already adorns an airport and an international trade center in Washington, an aircraft carrier, streets, highways, schools and one other post office.

Racing: Congressional congratulations on a century of motor sports competition that began with an automobile race on a beach in Volusia County, Fla., in 1903 will be presented to the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), Grand American Road Racing (Grand Am), Indy Racing League (IRL), International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR), National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and United States Auto Club (USAC).

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