Senate lawmakers today are beginning what appears to be their final push to pass gun control legislation in response to the deadly massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to markup – essentially, readying for debate – an assault weapons ban bill, which would also ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as three other bills. The assault weapons ban, however, is seen as having virtually no chance to get through Congress. CBS News reports the decision by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to nonetheless consider it in committee signals that the Senate is taking a piecemeal approach to passing gun control legislation, rather than trying to pass a comprehensive bill. That’s because the assault weapons bill, which has a good chance to clear the committee, would almost certainly drag down the other gun control legislation if it were part of a comprehensive package presented to the full Senate. The other gun control bills scheduled to be taken up are a Leahy-backed measure to combat illegal arms trafficking; a bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., focused on school safety; and a bill mandating universal background checks sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Arkansas soon will have the nation’s most restrictive abortion law — a near-ban on the procedure from the 12th week of pregnancy onward — unless a lawsuit or court action intervenes. Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Legislature defied Gov. Mike Beebe, overriding the Democrat’s veto. The House voted 56-33 on Wednesday to override Beebe’s veto, a day after the Senate voted to do the same. The votes come less than a week after the legislature overrode a veto of a separate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final override vote, whereas the 12-week ban won’t take effect until this summer. The 12-week ban would prohibit abortions from the point when a fetus’ heartbeat can typically be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. It includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. The 20-week prohibition, which is based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week and therefore deserves protection from abortion, includes all of the same exemptions except for fetal disorders.Abortion rights proponents already have said they’ll sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect. Beebe warned lawmakers that both measures would end up wasting taxpayers’ money with the state defending them in court where, he said, they are likely to fail. The measures’ supporters, who expected court challenges, were undaunted.
Prosecutors in the murder case against Aurora movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes assert in court filings that there are no legal issues needing to be cleared up before Holmes can enter a plea in the case. The Denver Post reports in five separate motions— filed in response to five motions from Holmes’ attorneys — prosecutors say Colorado’s laws for insanity pleas and mental-health defenses are constitutional. They also say objections over how those laws mesh with Colorado’s death-penalty laws are premature — given that prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek the death penalty and Holmes’ attorneys have not yet said definitively whether they will raise a mental health defense. Last week, Holmes’ attorneys filed motions asking the judge overseeing the case to clarify Colorado’s laws for pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. They also challenged whether the laws — which require a defendant to cooperate in an independent mental-health evaluation — violate defendants’ rights against self-incrimination. Legal experts said the motions raise complicated questions about how the laws work in death-penalty cases.
Massachusetts lawmakers could soon consider a bill that would restrict the commercial use of data gathered while children use computers at public schools. The bill, introduced in January, appears to take aim at Google’s growing business of providing basic software like email and word processing over the Internet, which, in turn, is a growing threat to Microsoft’s cash-cow suite of Office tools.The proposed legislation would prohibit companies that provide schools with “a cloud-computing” service—a digital service accessed via the Web—from using the information gleaned from schoolchildren for advertising or other commercial purposes. Microsoft acknowledges it is behind the Massachusetts legislation and that the bill is aimed at business practices employed by Google. The move opens a new front in a long-running battle between the software rivals in which Microsoft has run advertisements questioning Google’s privacy practices and pressed regulators to more closely police Google’s activities. A Microsoft spokesperson said the company believes student data should not be used for commercial purposes. Regulators in the U.S. have been expanding efforts to broaden regulation over children’s privacy online and on mobile gadgets.
The Education Department is investigating whether Seattle’s public school district discriminates against black students by subjecting them to tougher and more frequent discipline than white students, agency and district officials said. The inquiry, launched in May 2012, is focusing in part on the district’s own statistics showing that African-American high school students are suspended or expelled more than three times as often as other students, school officials said on Wednesday. In middle school, the racial disparity is greater, with blacks 3 1/2 times more likely to be disciplined than other students, according to district data shared with Reuters. U.S. Education Department officials declined to say what led to the review. But spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the department was looking at whether Seattle schools were discriminating against blacks by disciplining them “more frequently and more harshly than similarly situated white students. A sweeping study by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights last year found black and Latino students across the United States were far more likely to be suspended than white students, and far less likely to have access to rigorous college-preparatory courses.cAmong the study’s findings were that one in five African-American boys, and one in 10 African-American girls, was suspended from school during the study period, the 2009-10 academic yea