Congress OKs defense bill

WASHINGTON - Congress sent President Obama a $633 billion defense bill for next year that would tighten penalties on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions and bulk up security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya.

The Senate voted 81-14 on Friday for the massive policy measure that covers the cost of ships, aircraft, weapons, and military personnel. The vote came less than 24 hours after the House passed the bill, 315-107.

The White House has threatened a veto, but it remains unclear whether Obama will reject the bipartisan legislation. The bill passed by veto-proof margins.

Even if the fiscal cliff, with its automatic spending cuts, is averted, the bill approved Friday reflects cuts in defense dollars that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in 2011 as well as the end to the war in Iraq and the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The bill would authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department's base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department, and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan. - AP

Fatal crash spurs changes

DALLAS - Union Pacific is adjusting the timing of the West Texas railroad crossing signal where a collision last month killed four military veterans riding in a parade, a company spokeswoman said Friday.

Raquel Espinoza-Williams said the railroad was doing work that will "improve buffer time" so the Midland crossing is "over and above" the minimum 20-second warning time required by federal regulations.

The four men died when the flatbed truck they were riding on was struck by a train traveling 62 m.p.h. The truck was the second float in a Nov. 15 parade to honor wounded veterans. Sixteen people were injured in the accident, which remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. - AP

Ala. judge halts jail HIV policy

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A judge struck down Alabama's decades-old policy of segregating prison inmates with HIV, ruling Friday that it violates federal disabilities law.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in favor of inmates who sued to end the long-standing practice and said he would give the state and inmate attorneys time to propose a way to bring state prisons into compliance with his order.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven HIV-positive inmates, called the decision "historic." Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas said corrections officials had not decided its next move. - AP

Elsewhere:

Two types of ice seals

joined polar bears on Friday on the list of species threatened by the loss of sea ice, which scientists say reached record low levels this year due to climate warming. Ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears, and bearded seals in the Arctic Ocean will be listed.