President Barack Obama on Wednesday will start a push for the most sweeping changes to gun laws in nearly two decades, testing whether lawmakers, including powerful members of his own party, are willing to ban the most controversial weapons and toughen requirements for prospective owners. The Wall Street Journal reports Mr. Obama will call for Congress to end the sale of certain semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to require background checks to screen gun buyers for criminal violations and serious mental illness, people briefed on his plans said. His proposals will also include actions that Mr. Obama can take by using his executive powers, such as more aggressive prosecution of those who try to buy firearms illegally. White House officials have signaled that Mr. Obama is likely to propose ideas that haven’t been widely discussed in public, such as a plan to encourage target shooters to lock up their guns at target ranges rather than keep them at home, where they may be more likely to fall into the wrong hands. Mr. Obama will also move to clear the way for new federal research on gun-related injuries. Congress has done little in the realm of gun-control since 1994, when a crime bill that included a ban on some semiautomatic rifles was enacted. That ban expired in 2004.
On Tuesday New York became the first state to pass a gun control law — the toughest in the nation — since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre last month. Acting one month and a day since the rampage killing that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law shortly after 5 p.m. Called the New York Safe Act, the law includes a tougher assault weapons ban that broadens the definition of what constitutes an assault weapon, and limits the capacity of magazines to seven bullets, down from 10. The law also requires background checks of ammunition and gun buyers, even in private sales, imposes tougher penalties for illegal gun use, a one-state check on all firearms purchases, and programs to cut gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods.New York’s law also aims to keep guns out of the hands of those will mental illness. The law gives judges the power to require those who pose a threat to themselves or others get outpatient care. The law also requires that when a mental health professional determines a gun owner is likely to do harm, the risk must be reported and the gun removed by law enforcement. The legislation also includes what is called a “Webster provision,” named for the two firefighters ambushed on Christmas Eve in Webster, N.Y. The measure would mandate a life sentence with no chance of parole for anyone who kills a first responder.
Lance Armstrong has offered to pay more than $5 million to the federal government to compensate for the fraud he allegedly committed against the U.S. Postal Service, CBS News has learned. The Postal Service paid Armstrong’s team more than $30 million to sponsor it from 1999 to 2004 as part of a contract that banned doping. CBS News has also learned Armstrong offered to be a cooperating witness in a federal investigation.But sources say the Department of Justice has turned down both offers as inadequate. The Justice Department is considering joining a federal whistleblower lawsuit reportedly filed by Floyd Landis, an American cyclist who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. The suit is aimed at recouping the sponsorship funds provided by the US Postal Service, which supported the team from 1996-2004, in light of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s lifetime ban of Lance Armstrong for doping. If the suit is successful, Landis could, under the Federal False Claims Act, personally claim up to 30% of the funds that the government wins.
Calling the death penalty expensive and ineffective in reducing violent crime, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday that he would push to make his state the latest to do away with capital punishment. Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat seen as a possible presidential hopeful in 2016, said he would introduce a bill to the state legislature this week calling for the full repeal of the state’s death penalty. If it passed, Maryland would become the sixth state to abolish capital punishment since 2007—joining Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Thirty-three states retain the power to sentence inmates to death. The vote in Maryland’s Senate is expected to be close, according to people familiar with the situation. Twenty-four of the Senate’s 47 members need to vote for the bill in order for it to move to the state House of Delegates, where it is widely expected to pass. Maryland has executed five inmates since 1978, when it reinstated the death penalty, and hasn’t executed anyone since 2004, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization largely opposed to how the death penalty is administered in the U.S. The state has five death-row inmates, and hasn’t imposed a death sentence since 2005. Public support for capital punishment, while at 63%, is near its lowest levels in 39 years, according to a Gallup poll released last week.
In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott chose a landmark education bill tying teacher pay to student performance as the first he would sign as governor. The Student Success Act would create new tests for public school students to measure their learning gains and place teachers under one-year contracts. The new law was hailed as an achievement that would help propel the data-driven improvements in education that were promoted under the federal Race to the Top program. “We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher,” Scott said in a statement after signing the bill at a Jacksonville charter school.The state’s teachers union questioned said the law would pull job security out from under even the state’s longest serving educators. They questioned whether the exams prescribed by the new law could reliably measure teachers’ performance. A few months after the law was signed, a group of teachers represented by the Florida Education Association sued to block it from taking effect. Their case will be heard for the first time today in a Leon County courtroom. Today’s hearings mark an early, defining step in what could become a long-running legal battle to decide the fate of a central piece of the governor’s education agenda.