Nation report for January 5


Unusual alliance pushes for sentencing changes

WASHINGTON (AP) — An unusual alliance of tea party enthusiasts and liberal leaders in Congress is pursuing major changes in the country’s mandatory sentencing laws.

What’s motivating them are growing concerns about the fairness of the sentences and the expense of running federal prisons.

The congressional push comes as President Barack Obama and his Cabinet draw attention to the issue of mandatory sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders.

Supporters claim mandatory minimum sentences are outdated, lump all offenders into one category and rob judges of the ability to use their own discretion. They also cite the high costs of the policies. The Justice Department spends some $6.4 billion, about one-quarter of its budget, on prisons each year, and that number is growing steadily.

“People are coming here for different reasons, but there is a real opportunity,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of the Senate’s leading proponents of sentencing changes.

The push is being led by the Senate, where Durbin has worked with tea party stalwarts such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on legislation that would give judges more flexibility to determine prison sentences in many drug cases. At the same time, a right-left coalition is pressing for changes in the House.

Kerry cites progress in Mideast peace process

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday cited progress on the Mideast peace process, yet acknowledged some of the most intractable disputes between Israelis and Palestinians were unsolved after more than 20 rounds of negotiations.

“This is hard work,” he told reporters after a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their second in two days.

Afterward, Kerry resumed his shuttle diplomacy by heading back to Jerusalem for his third meeting in as many days with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We’re not there yet, but we are making progress,” Kerry said earlier outside Abbas’ West Bank headquarters.

 

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