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New Bill Seeks To Ban Former Lawmakers From Becoming Lobbyists

Freshman Republican Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa introduced a bill this week that would ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists for life.

Currently former members of Congress are not allowed to lobby for one or two years after they leave office for a “cooling off period,” but Blum’s legislation, also known as the No Golden Parachutes for Public Service Act, would make the ban permanent.

Lobbyists can often make huge amounts of money. Former members of Congress get a 1,452% raise on average when they leave office to become lobbyists, according to an investigation by Public Report. It’s not uncommon for those ex-legislators to make millions as lobbyists.

Though legislation like Blum’s has been suggested by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, it isn’t a flawless bill. It wouldn’t prevent former legislators from becoming unregistered “shadow lobbyists,” who advise people on political strategy without trying to push their own interests, Vox reported.

“By working as policy advisors and in other ‘nonlobbyist’ positions, former lobbyists can keep their current jobs but escape the consequences of being a registered lobbyist,” wrote Dan Auble for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Blum’s measure hasn’t been tested in Congress yet, but it will undoubtedly face opposition because legislators may want to keep their options open for life after Capitol Hill.

Sources: Public Report, Vox, Center for Responsive Politics Image via Elliott P. /Flickr

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Obama signals support for medical marijuana bill backed by Rand Paul

President says country should ‘follow the science as opposed to the ideology’ and address drug abuse from public health standpoint, not just through incarceration


President Barack Obama is to signal his approval of a Senate bill that seeks to lessen constrictions around the use of medical marijuana, saying the US should “follow the science as opposed to the ideology” on the issue.

Asked about the bill by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday at 9pm ET, the president said: “You know, I think I’d have to take a look at the details.

But he added: “I’m on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we’re going to be.”

This week, a California judge declined to remove marijuana from the federal list of the most dangerous drugs. Changing social attitudes, however, have led to its legalisation for recreational use in Oregon, Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and the District of Columbia and for medicinal use in those states and 19 others.

In a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 53% of respondents approved of the legalisation of marijuana. Among millennials, defined as those aged between 18 and 34, support for legalisation was at 68%.

The Senate bill, known as the Carers Act, which was introduced last month by the Democrats Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand and the Republican Rand Paul, seeks to allow patients to use medical marijuana without fear of federal law and to open the banking system to marijuana dispensaries.

Paul, a declared GOP candidate for president in 2016, lines up with many liberals in seeing laws relating to marijuana as part of a wider criminal justice problem that contributes to a huge and racially skewed prison population.

Obama’s receptiveness to marijuana policy reform has long been evident. He has admitted to using the drug in his youth – writing about using marijuana and cocaine, saying “I got high, without always thinking about the harm that it could do” – and has said he views marijuana as not being “more dangerous than alcohol”.

In late 2012, after Washington state and Colorado legalised the drug, he said it would not be a priority for federal prosecutors.

Speaking to Gupta, he suggested current policies on tobacco – as well as car seatbelts – could provide a model for federal policy on marijuana.

“You know, we save tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives every single year,” he said. “We didn’t throw anybody in jail; we just made sure that they were well-informed and if somebody has an addiction, we made sure that we made it easy for them to get help.

“And I think we need to re-emphasize that approach [for marijuana], because we don’t want to encourage our kids to engage in drug use, but there are going to be more effective ways than, too often, the approach we’re taking today.”

Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, also spoke to Gupta. He said: “We now have had three presidents that have admitted to smoking marijuana. ”

“People that are in public office all throughout the Senate have said: ‘Hey, I’ve smoked marijuana recreationally.’ How much of a hypocrite do you have to be to say that I broke American laws using pot as a recreational thing and that I’m not going to support this idea that as a medicine for severely sick people, that they shouldn’t be able to access this drug?”


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Marco Rubio says ‘same-sex marriage is not a constitutional right’

Florida senator and presidential candidate says issue should be decided on state level but concedes ‘sexual preference is something people are born with’

Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who this week declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, on Sunday said he did not “believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right”.

Rubio said instead that the issue should be decided at the state level, although he did concede that “sexual preference is something that people are born with”.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 37 US states – including Florida – and the District of Columbia, a situation reached after the supreme court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) in 2013. The issue remains contentious in many southern states, but a final supreme court decision on its constitutionality is expected this month.

“It’s not that I’m against gay marriage,” Rubio said in a CBS interview taped in New Hampshire, the early voting state to which Republican candidates flocked this weekend. “I believe the definition of the institution of marriage should be between one man and one woman.

“States have always regulated marriage. And if a state wants to have a different definition, you should petition the state legislature and have a political debate. I don’t think courts should be making that decision.”

“I don’t believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. I also don’t believe that your sexual preferences are a choice for the vast and enormous majority of people. In fact … I believe that sexual preference is something that people are born with.”

Before and after his declaration of his presidential candidacy, Rubio’s views on a number of nationally contested issues have come under close scrutiny. Though he acknowledges the existence of climate change – in contrast to many other prominent Republicans – he has said that he does not believe it is caused by humans.

The son of Cuban immigrants was also asked about immigration, another issue on which Republican feelings run high. In 2013 he was one of the sponsors of a comprehensive reform bill. Many critics have suggested he dropped the issue after the bill’s failure to pass through Congress.

Rubio told CBS host Bob Schieffer he no longer believed such an approach could work, and instead outlined a number of steps he said would have to be taken – on issues such as border security – before undocumented immigrants in the US could achieve citizenship.

“We understand that we have to deal with 12 million human beings that are in this country, that have been here for longer than a decade,” he said. “We know we have to deal with this. We are not prepared to deal with it until first you can prove to us this will never happen again.”

Asked about his position in a crowded Republican field – potentially featuring as many as 19 candidates for the nomination – Rubio said he was uniquely qualified having served at local, state and national levels.

Repeating familiar attack lines heard across the field in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Friday and Saturday, he also said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would offer the country “another four years of Barack Obama”, and her record on foreign policy had been “a disaster for America”.

At his campaign launch on Tuesday, Rubio played heavily on his youth as compared with Clinton’s age, which is 67. In response to scepticism surrounding his experience, as he runs for the White House after less than one full term on Capitol Hill, the 43-year-old told CBS: “The presidency’s a big job and I’m prepared for that.”


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Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Bans Cruises for Welfare Recipients in Sweeping Crackdown

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation on Thursday banning welfare recipients from spending their public assistance money on cruises, tattoo parlors, lingerie stores, movie theaters and a long list of other businesses. House Bill 2258, also known as the HOPE Act, will go into effect on Jul. 1, and contains other measures designed encourage “more responsibility” by toughening regulations on how families spend government assistance dollars.

“We know that the most charitable act is not handing someone a check but helping that person get a job that sustains them and their families for generations to come,” said Gov. Brownback on Thursday. “Our focus is on helping people develop the skills to find and keep a job. Instead of focusing on a war against poverty, we will focus on fighting for the poor among us by offering them hope and opportunity.”

Currently the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides recipients with EBT cards, which they can use as debit cards to make purchases. With imminent restrictions, some more controversial than others, TANF beneficiaries will soon be unable to withdraw more than $25 per day in cash. However, they will still able to obtain money orders to pay for necessities such as rent.

The bill has come under fire from numerous organizations and people who claim that it stigmatizes low-income people and places achieving self-sufficiency even more out of reach for them.

“By signing this bill into law, Gov. Brownback has added to the burden that the poorest Kansans already carry,” said Kansas Action for Children in a statement. “It’s always been hard to be poor in Kansas. Now, it’s going to be a lot harder.”

The bill has others simply scratching their heads.

“People on public assistance shouldn’t be spending what little money they have on things like cruises,” said Miriam Krehbiel, the chief executive of the United Way chapter, to KCUR. “But what I don’t get is how we think that someone on public assistance – as little as it is – would ever be able to save up enough money to be on a cruise ship?”

At least 23 other states have passed laws that restrict how public benefits such as TANF can be used, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Alabama, recipients cannot use their cards on body piercings or psychics.

Kansans will also not be able to use their EBT cards for dog and horse racing facilities, spas, and alcohol, but will still be able to spend welfare dollars in gun stores, CNN noted.

The amount of Kansans receiving TANF benefits has declined from 38,900 per month in 2011 to 15,000 in 2015 under Brownback’s governance. However, the amount of food stamp recipients in Kansas increased by about 5,000 to 300,000 during the same time, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

While the number of TANF beneficiaries have gone down, many Democrats warn that legislators should not take this as a sign that the anti-poverty measures are working, just that more families are falling through the cracks. According to Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, many former welfare recipients fill jobs that pay poverty wages and that 25 percent of working Kansans needing some sort of public assistance.

Sources: Huffington Post, MSN, the Washington Post, KCUR

Image source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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