By Beatrice E. Garcia

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., introduced emergency legislation Thursday that would provide relief for small businesses around the country that have been affected by the terrorist acts of Sept. 11.

The bill aims to stave off bankruptcies, business closures and layoffs directly tied to the attacks.

"Small businesses in ground zero represent only a small fraction of the economic devastation as a result of the attacks," Kerry said. "From Philadelphia to San Francisco, small businesses _ from bagel suppliers to computer vendors to tour bus operators _ are reeling."

An aide to Kerry said the bill doesn't address tax incentives because such measures would most likely slow its progress through Congress.

Kerry, who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, is hoping to get the bill approved in two weeks.

The bill would let businesses located directly in the areas of the terrorist attacks or in areas of security closings apply for the Small Business Administration's economic injury disaster loans under more favorable terms, such as deferred payments and forgiving interest on the loans for up to two years.

The proposed legislation also addresses the needs of those firms indirectly affected by the attacks such as businesses in the financial, hospitality, travel and tour industries. South Florida has hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses that fall into that category.

These companies could apply for low-interest loans with easier qualifying requirements and could elect to defer principal payments for one year.

The bill also has provisions for firms in need of capital and investment financing, procurement assistance or management counseling.

The Kerry bill has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by 27 senators. A comparable bill was introduced in the House of Representatives Wednesday.