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Senate to Vote on Immigration Reform Bill

The Senate is expected to pass the immigration reform bill today. There will be a vote at 4:00 p.m.

In addition to providing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the bipartisan bill would double to 40,000 the number of federal agents on the U.S.-Mexican border and help provide American businesses with needed low- and high-skilled workers.

(Added: the use of the word "illegal" to describe immigrants is not allowed here, it was a quote in a Reuters news article. (another version here.) I just noticed it and struck the word. Newer Reuters articles aren't using the word.

The bill will then move to the House. Republicans in the House want their own bill. They oppose the path to citizenship in the Senate version.

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Vermont Governor Signs "Death With Dignity" Law

Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed Vermont's "Death With Dignity" law. The law allows doctors to prescribe medication that permitting the terminally ill to end their lives. It takes effect today.

The law, which went into effect Monday, allows for an end-of-life procedure with the consent of a patient's doctor after the patient has made more than one request for help in ending life. The bill also stipulates that the patient has a chance to retract the request.

Under the bill, a qualifying patient must be at least 18 years old, a Vermont resident and suffering from an "incurable and irreversible disease," with less than six months to live. Two physicians, including the prescribing doctor, must make that medical determination. The patient must also be told of other end-of-life services, "including palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control," according to the bill.

Vermont is the fourth state to allow physician-assisted end of life measures. The others are Oregon, Washington and Montana.

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Gun Control Bill Defeated in Senate

The Senate today rejected new gun control measures.

Among the measures that failed: One that banned high-capacity magazines with more than ten rounds, one that banned rapid-firing "assault" weapons and one calling for expanded background checks.

The vote was 54-46 vote, and 60 votes were needed.

While I'm glad the bills failed, I think it was a mistake by Obama to keep bringing out the Sandy Hook survivors in support of his plan.

It's also clear from Boston that gun laws won't stop horrific acts of violence or terrorism. If guns aren't available, anyone bent on mayhem will find another way to commit it. Bombs have a greater destructive potential than guns. [More....]

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A 15 Year Old's Testimony on Gun Control Laws

Gun control legislation is on the agenda for the Senate tomorrow. Here's an opposing view from a 15 year old.

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DOJ Proposes Increased Penalties for CyberHacking

Not long ago, in response to Aaron Swartz' suicide, a bill was proposed to ease the draconian penalties for cyberhacking.

That has not stopped DOJ from supporting an alternative bill, now under consideration, that would increase penalties. A copy of the bill is here.

DOJ has been pushing increased penalties for cyberhacking for some time. See the 2011 Statement of Deputy Section Chief Richard Downing Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Details of the current law are in this 2010 Congressional Research Services report.

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Bill Introduced to Provide Some Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Relief

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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Senate Hearing on Gun Issues

The Senate is holding a hearing on guns today. Here's a recap from The Atlantic.

Here's who is speaking and their positions.

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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House Passes Fiscal Cliff Bill

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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Senate Passes NDAA, 98 to 0

The Senate has unanimously passed its $631 billion version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), by a vote of 98 to 0. The House version was $634 billion.

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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Congress Increases Penalties for Child P*rn

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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Lead Shrinks: Don't Let Amendment 64 Go Up in Smoke

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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House Passes Re-Authorization of Warrantless NSA Surveillance

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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Stand Your Ground Law Infographic

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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Gov. Christie Vetoes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

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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NJ House Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill, Veto Likely

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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