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I think the biggest problem in our criminal justice system for the past 25 years has been rigid mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul introduced the bi-partisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. According to Sen. Leahy:
The bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 expands the so-called “safety valve” that allows judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in qualifying drug cases to all federal crimes. By giving judges this greater flexibility, they will not be forced to administer needlessly long sentences for certain offenders, which is a significant factor in the ever-increasing Federal prison population and the spiraling costs that steer more and more of the justice budget toward keeping people in prison, rather than investing in programs that keep our communities safe.
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David Koppel of Colorado is one of the speakers. He is the Research Director for the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado, an Associate Policy Analyst for the Cato Institute, and an Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at the Univ. of Denver Law School. I recommend his prepared testimony, available here. (All of the prepared statements are accessible here.
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The votes on H.R. 8 are being tallied now. You can watch live here. So far, 7 Dems and 70 Republicans have voted against it. Right now it's at 122 to 75 in favor. They are voting on a motion to agree to the Senate Amendments.
Looks like it will pass. It's been running 50 votes ahead on the ayes. 10 Dems and 100 Republicans have so far have voted no.
Vote's over. It passed easily. Final vote was 257 to 167. 16 Dems voted against it. Here's the roll call vote.
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Feinstein's Amendment to bar military detention of American citizens was agreed to on November 29, but so was Sen. Kelly Ayotte's Amendment, which permanently bars the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees. [More...]
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Federal judges have been complaining for a long time that our child p*rn penalties are too high. In 2010, judges departed below the sentencing guidelines or granted downward variances in 43% of cases. (For other crimes, the average departure rate was 18%.)
So what does Congress do? Yesterday, the Congress that agrees on nothing, agreed on increasing child p*rn penalties. The statutory maximum will be 20 intstead of 10 years in cases involving pre-pubescent children or those under age 12. The bill, already passed by the House, passed the Senate yesterday on a voice vote and will now go to President Obama for signing. Here's the text of the bill that passed yesterday. [More...]
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Last month, Amendment 64, Colorado' proposal to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult use had a 51 to 49 lead. This week, after the pot warriors came to town and took out ads, the lead is down to 48 to 39%.
This bill is an impoortant one to pass. Right now, possession of under an ounce of pot carries a hundred dollar fine --and a criminal record. You have to disclose it when applying for jobs. If you are in college, your will lose your loan for a while. Paying to expunge it later is expensive, and given the number of records on the internet, some will likely stay there. It can affect your ability to rent an apartment or apply for some kinds of professional licenses.
If the law isn't on the books, the state can't charge, and you are free of that pesky criminal record. Same goes for your kids, where a record could hurt their chances of getting into or staying in college. [More...]
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The House of Representatives today reauthorized the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and emails. The Supreme Court will hear the ACLU's challenge to the 2008 law in October.
The ACLU says:
“Yet again, the House has rubberstamped a law so broad and vague that, despite its passage four years ago, we still have little idea how the government is using it,” said Michelle Richardson, ACLU legislative counsel. “It is at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment that Americans and their communications are fiercely protected from government intrusion. This law should be amended to include much stronger privacy protections when the Senate takes it up later this year.”
Sen. Ron Wyden has put a hold on the Senate's consideration of the bill until later this year. Voice your opposition now.
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The Florida Task Force on the state's Stand Your Ground law holds its first hearing today -- in a church. 56% of Floridians support Stand Your Ground laws. I support them as well. I don't understand why progressives have chosen this issue. Limiting any constitutional right is not progressive. It's reactionary.
Hopefully the hearing will not be about the Trayvon Martin shooting. Laws should not be enacted or changed in response to a singular event. George Zimmerman may well have been justified in shooting Trayvon Martin under standard self-defense principles. And if he wasn't, it's unlikely the Stand Your Ground law will provide him with immunity.
The Task Force is led by Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll. She says:
Even though the task force was created because of this case, it won't focus exclusively on this case.... I didn’t want the task force to be a trial of the Zimmerman-Martin case. This task force has to look at public safety and citizens’ rights,” said Carroll.
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has vetoed the same-sex marriage bill passed by the state legislature, but he calls it a conditional veto.
Gov. Chris Christie this afternoon conditionally vetoed the gay marriage bill and suggested appointing an ombudsman to address complaints of same-sex couples and strengthen New Jersey’s civil union law.
"I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples — as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits,’’ Christie said in a prepared statement.
Is anybody fooled that this is not a veto? A referendum will not happen. Legislative action has ended for now, and the deadline for an override of the veto is Jan. 14. [More...]
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The New Jersey Assembly has passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage. The Senate approved the bill last week, so it now goes to Governor Chris Christie, who has said he will veto it.
Both chambers lack the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto by Christie blocking gay marriage, a hot-button social issue that is gaining traction in the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign.
Same sex marriage is legal in six states: New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa. Washington's governor signed a bill authorizing it on Monday, but it is not yet in effect and may face a voter initiative challenge.
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The House today passed its version of the Stock Act, S. 2038, the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012.") Groups like CREW are misguided in complaining that it does not include the Leahy-Cornyn amendment (S. 1483.) It's a good thing that the Leahy-Cornyn Amendment was dropped. It should stay out of the bill when the Senate-House Conference meets.
The Amendment was presented as one that closed loopholes but it is more than that. As the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) wrote in letters to Congress, the Amendment adds a host of unnecessary crimes and increased penalties and effectively overrules two recent Supreme Court decisions. [More...]
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Reid is still holding out hope for PIPA:
"There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved."
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Several Senators and Congresspersons have come out in opposition to SOPA and PIPA today including PIPA co-sponsor Marc Rubio.
I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.
Sen. Jeff Merkel:
Mark Zuckerberg comes out against SOPA on his personal FB page and got 75,000 likes in 10 minutes. It's now 45 minutes, and his post has 372,000 likes. Facebook's anti-SOPA/PIPA views are here. More blackout graphics below: [More...]
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Wikipedia is dark.
Mozilla will be dark during the day.
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Google will place a protest link on its home page.
“We oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said in an e-mail today.
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