Jan 152015
 

The 2011 Budget Control Act brought an end to that year’s debt-ceiling crisis which had threatened to lead us into sovereign default. As a solution to that budget impasse, a bipartisan “super committee” would impose future across-the-board budget cuts, called sequestrations, if Congress was unable to agree on cuts themselves. These cuts were enacted in 2013 after lawmaker’s efforts proved unsuccessful. Sequester cuts are evenly divided between defense and non-defense spending and will occur over a 9 year period. These cuts average about 5% and are designed to reduce our long-term debt by $1.1 trillion. About $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget each of these years to reach this goal. Major programs like Social Security, Medicaid, federal pensions and veteran’s benefits are exempt. However, the funding of programs for low-income Americans such as Head Start, Meals on Wheels and federal unemployment and housing benefits have been significantly cut, among others. Supporters claim these cuts are “not the end of the world” and will help put our financial house in order. Critics claim it is unfair and unethical to reduce our debt by cutting needed services to our most vulnerable citizens. They say this debt was created by 2 expensive and questionable wars, 2 expensive tax cuts which mostly benefitted the wealthy, a prescription drug benefit program that was unnecessarily generous to our pharmaceutical industry, and a financial meltdown brought on by the greed of those managing our financial institutions. This meltdown erased trillions of dollars in wealth from our middle class, along with much of its purchasing power. They claim the costs of reducing our debt should be borne by those who benefited from these “mistakes,” not the middle class – who are still trying to recover from them. The 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act provided significant relief from these cuts by raising the sequestration caps for 2014 and 2015 – in return for extending these spending caps into 2022 and 2023.

Pending Legislation:

H.R.900: Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current sequester policy and wish to defeat H.R.900

I support repealing the sequester cuts by amending the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Controlled Act of 1985 (Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act), as amended by the Budget Control Act of 2011, to repeal certain sequestration requirements for enforcement of a specified budget goal, and wish to pass H.R.900

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Stand-your-ground laws give individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without being required to retreat from a dangerous situation. Sometimes referred to as “shoot first” laws by detractors, these laws differ from previous standards by removing a person’s “duty to retreat” when confronted with what they perceive to be a life-threatening situation. The first stand-your-ground law was passed by Florida in 2005 and at least two dozen states have followed this example. More than half of our states had previously adopted the Castle Doctrine which states that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked or invaded. Stand-your-ground laws go further, removing the duty to retreat from all other locations as well. Critics say what makes stand-your-ground laws so radical is their automatic presumption of reasonable fear, justifying the use of deadly force. Previous laws required proof that the level of fear was great enough to require the use of lethal force in self-defense. Critics also claim these laws are arbitrarily applied by police, prosecutors and judges. There are many unprosecuted cases of a person shooting someone who is unarmed, laying on the ground or running away. Drug dealers and criminals, after engaging in gun battles with rivals, have successfully used this law as a defense. One study showed that in nearly a third of unprosecuted stand-your-ground cases, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim. Other opponents of this law claim it was sponsored by, and mainly benefits, our gun manufacturers. Since Florida’s stand-your ground law was passed, the number of this state’s concealed weapon permits have tripled to 1.1 million. Our Attorney General has criticized these laws, saying they “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.”

Pending Legislation:

H.R.2812 – Justice Exists for All of Us Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current stand-your-ground law policy and wish to defeat H.R.2812

I support not having in effect throughout the State any law or policy that allows a person to use deadly force when such person is threatened that does not impose a duty to retreat before using such force in any place where such person is lawfully present (commonly known as `stand your ground laws’); except that a State may have in place a law or policy that permits a victim of domestic violence to use deadly force when such victim is threatened and does not impose a duty on the victim to retreat before using such force in any place where such victim is lawfully present; and have in effect throughout the State laws and policies that make it unlawful to establish, organize, operate, or participate in a neighborhood watch program unless such program is registered with the local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the neighborhood in which the program is located, and wish to pass H.R.2812

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

America’s War on Drugs was first declared in 1971 by President Nixon in response to the high rates of heroin addiction among soldiers returning from Viet Nam. It is estimated that the total cost of this war, including the investigation, prosecution and incarceration of drug users and dealers is at least $50 billion each year, or about a trillion dollars since Nixon’s declaration. Critics claim all this money has not changed our addiction rate but it has given us the world’s highest rate of incarceration. In 2010, more than half of all federal prisoners were in jail for drug offenses. Advocates claim this punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. African-Americans make up nearly 50% of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes, even though the rates of drug usage in black and white populations are about equal. Critics claim the unjust rates of incarceration among blacks, Hispanics and the poor show why this war we have been fighting for decades should itself be considered illegal. They say that since incarceration does little to cure addiction, we need to address this problem as a health issue, not a criminal one. They say the toll that incarceration exacts on these mostly non-violent offenders, as well as the financial costs to society, are counterproductive to solving our drug addiction problem. It is estimated that nearly one third of all black men are ineligible to vote because of felony convictions for non-violent drug-related offenses. Critics say this unnoticed and unfair effect of the War on Drugs denies many citizens representation and prevents them from participating in the governing process.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current War on Drugs policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to end the War on Drugs and increase funding for substance abuse treatment programs and facilities

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to restore the right to vote for felons who have been convicted of non-violent drug-related offenses

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Capital punishment is permitted by our Constitution and limited under the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty is used almost exclusively for aggravated murders committed by mentally competent adults. There are at least 3,035 inmates currently on Death Row and 39 people were executed in 2013. Since 1976, 34 states, the military and our federal government and have executed about 1,392 inmates who were convicted of murdering at least one person. Of those executed, 56% were white and 35% were black. This group also included 15 women. Texas is the leader in capital punishment with 518 executions during this time. Oklahoma is second with 111.

Supporters of the death penalty believe it serves justice, is a fitting punishment for murder, and allows closure for the families of crime victims. Others claim retribution, or the biblical concept of an “eye for an eye,” justifies the death penalty. Some believe capital punishment deters people from committing murder, and gives prosecutors a bargaining chip in the plea-bargain process. Many say the death penalty is an appropriate punishment because it guarantees a murderer will not kill again. Studies have found that about 8% of those on Death Row have a prior homicide conviction.

Opponents say the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and is unevenly administered to people without wealth, people of color and to innocent people as well. They say poor defendants and minorities receive the death penalty much more often than defendants who can afford more competent representation. Our Justice Department has reported that white defendants are more likely than black defendants to negotiate plea bargains that save them from the death penalty in federal cases. It has also been acknowledged that the legal representation of defendants in many capital cases has been inadequate. It estimated that 15% of those we have executed have been innocent. Death penalty opponents claim there are many systemic problems that result in innocent people being convicted of murder. These include mistaken identification, coerced confessions, reliance on jailhouse informants, reliance on faulty forensic testing and poor access to reliable DNA testing. At least 18 inmates on death row have been exonerated since 1973 -most after serving lengthy sentences. DNA analysis of crime scene evidence has often been the determining factor in these inmates being found innocent.

Supporters of the death penalty also use DNA testing to make the case that those now on death row have been tested, proven to be truly guilty and should therefore be executed. Some say we should halt further executions until the guilt of all death row inmates can be assured. However, death penalty opponents say no system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and absolutely guarantee that no innocent person is ever put to death. They recommend mandatory life sentences for criminals convicted of heinous crimes. They say that, considering legal costs and the appeals process, executing an inmate costs taxpayers millions more than a sentence of life in prison without parole. They add that capital punishment prevents justice in cases where the executed is eventually found to be innocent. Our Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty is constitutional despite the “theoretical possibility” that an innocent person might be put to death.

Due to recent voluntary drug embargoes by European manufacturers and others, most of the traditional lethal injection drugs, such as pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, are no longer available. This has led some states to experiment with unapproved and untested drug combinations in order to continue executing inmates. These states refuse to divulge the type or source of these new drugs, which have resulted in a number of botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona. It took 25, 43 and 100 minutes for these new drugs to kill inmates in these states, and anesthesiologists say they likely did so in great pain. Advocates claim this violates our 8th Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment, saying it is illegal to use unknown and untested execution drugs before their effectiveness and constitutionality can be evaluated. Some states are now considering the use of the electric chair or firing squad for executions.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current death penalty policy

I support a moratorium on federal executions to review whether the death penalty is consistent with constitutional requirements of fairness, justice, equality and due process, and wish to identify a legislator who will reintroduce S.132 – National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2003 (108th Congress 2003-2004)

I support abolishing the federal death penalty and wish to identify a legislator who will reintroduce H.R.2574 – Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2003 (108th Congress 2003-2004)

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill requiring prisons to disclose of the type and origin of lethal injection drugs intended to be used for execution; and prohibiting execution by means of lethal injection until this method is proven to conform to the protections provided under the Eighth Amendment.

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

In an attempt to win the War on Drugs, we enacted mandatory minimum sentencing laws in 1986. These laws, intended to reduce or eliminate illegal drug supplies, were enforced against first-time offenders. Mandatory sentencing laws require prison terms of 10 years without parole for drug convictions involving more than 11 pounds of cocaine. However, the penalty or selling only 2 ounces of crack cocaine was also 10 years. The average sentence of these first-time nonviolent drug offenders is often longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter. These laws have filled our prisons but the War on Drugs is no closer to being won now than it was when it began in 1971. Before this law was passed, about 50,000 Americans were serving time for drug offenses. Today, there are nearly 500,000 drug offenders locked up. Our prison budget has increased more than 1,000% during this time to accommodate mandatory minimum sentences. Opponents of mandatory sentencing laws say prosecutors, by deciding how to charge and prosecute offenders, are now making sentencing decisions instead of judges. Critics claim mandatory sentencing laws have failed to decrease our nation’s illegal drug supplies and that these inmates should not be serving such long terms for nonviolent crimes. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger federal criminal penalties. Advocates say we need further reforms including making this new law retroactive and completely eliminating the disparity between the sentences imposed for crack and powder cocaine. The Obama administration has ordered federal prosecutors to refrain from listing drug quantities in indictments for low-level drug cases and is also considering granting clemency to thousands of nonviolent drug offenders before he leaves office. Advocates say this essentially eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for the duration of the Obama administration but it does not change the law.

Pending Legislation:

H.R.2369 – Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current mandatory minimum sentencing law policy and wish to defeat H.R.2369

I support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug-related offenses by directing a court in cases in which a sentence has not yet been imposed with respect to the application of the penalty amendments of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to cocaine base offenses committed prior to the enactment of such Act and impose such sentence as if such amendments were in effect on the date the offense was committed; and for the Court of Appeals to remand for resentencing consistent with such amendments such cases in which a sentence has already been imposed, if subject to a pending appeal on or after August 3, 2010; authorizing the sentencing court, in the case of a defendant who has been convicted of such an offense committed before August 3, 2010, for which a term of imprisonment has been imposed, to reduce the term of imprisonment for that crime consistent with the amendments made by that Act on motion of the defendant or the Director of the Bureau of Prisons or on its own motion, and wish to pass H.R.2369

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Three Strikes laws are statutes enacted by our state and federal governments which require courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted of three or more serious crimes. However, there have been many different interpretations as to what is considered a serious crime. As a result, defendants with previous convictions have been given sentences of 25 years to life for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs or stealing a slice of pizza from a child. At least 26 states now have some form of these habitual offender laws on their books. The first Three Strikes law was passed in 1993 by voters in Washington State. The following year California and the federal government passed Three Strikes laws in which a third felony conviction carried a sentence of life in prison without parole for 25 years. Advocates say that after the hype leading to the passage of these laws died down, it was soon apparent they were not bringing the results the public expected. Data shows Three Strikes laws didn’t necessarily reduce violent crime but instead put away more “criminals” for nonviolent and petty crimes. This dramatically increased our prison population. These studies show that higher incarceration rates do not necessarily lead to less crime. Researchers have found that all 19 states which reduced the number of people in prison over the past decade have also seen their crime rates decline. A 2010 report by California’s State Auditor concluded that “those now in prison under California’s Three Strikes law will cost the state $19.2 billion and that 53% of these inmates are serving a sentence for non-serious and nonviolent crimes.” Some states have ruled that Three Strikes laws are unconstitutional on the grounds they violate our 6th Amendment guarantee of trial by jury.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current Three Strikes policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill prohibiting Three Strike laws

 Posted by at 12:00 am