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Texas Moves To Allow Open Carrying Of Guns Statewide

After turning back last-minute attempts to let city voters opt out, the Texas House gave final approval to legislation allowing gun owners with concealed weapons licenses to carry their side arms openly, the Texas Tribune reports. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to sign open carry legislation. 

The Texas House debated the bill for more than five hours last week. Lawmakers opposed to open carry made last-ditch efforts to soften the legislation. Rep Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, filed an amendment that would allow large cities to vote to opt in or out of open carry. "Rural open carry is different than densely populated open carry," Anchia said. "If you put this to a vote in big cities, I think people are going to say resoundingly no."

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Experts Say NRA Illegally Sends Contributions To Its Political Fund

General contributions to the National Rifle Association are finding their way into the account of the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, the NRA’s political action committee. Eexperts on federal election law tell Yahoo News they are all illegal. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and a legion of state and federal antifraud statutes are designed to protect the public from phony charities and false or misleading solicitations. The FECA makes a hard distinction between solicitations for elections and other solicitations, in part because many Americans don’t like donating to politicians.

An NRA member might contribute to the organization because she admires its work on behalf of hunters. She might also contribute to an environmental group because she wants to preserve forests. But this same donor may vehemently oppose the candidates endorsed in federal elections by both the NRA and the environmental group. As a result, the law makes it clear that when these groups are soliciting for electoral purposes they must disclose that fact to potential donors. “There are at least three clear violations” of federal law, says Brett Kappel, an expert on political law and campaign finance at the law firm Akerman LLP. “First of all, they can’t be soliciting from the general public at their website. Then there’s the fact that the money is not being solicited in the name of the PAC; they have to say it’s for the PAC and what the political purpose of the PAC is. And then there are multiple missing disclaimers such as the disclaimer saying that contributions have to be voluntary.”

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Minnesota Reverses Course, Bans Inmates From On-Camera Interviews

Minnesota prison officials have identified a form of contraband that’s now off-limits around inmates: news cameras, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A new media policy prohibits any photography or videography, reversing a previous rule that allowed inmates, with the approval of the Department of Corrections, to grant on-camera interviews. Corrections officials say they made the change to ensure that the news media access policy “aligns” with the contraband policy, which includes cameras, along with pornography, lighters, knives, wrapped packages and other dangerous stuff.

The policy means that the nearly 10,000 inmates of Minnesota prisons will recede even further from public view, their faces all but invisible. Banning cameras from interviews with consenting inmates is “absurd,” said Gregg Leslie of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The Washington-based advocacy group has fought to maintain the media’s access to inmates. Leslie said the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that inmates do retain speech rights, and by extension the ability to communicate with reporters. The outspokenness of a well-known inmate serving a life sentence for murdering a police officer led to a backlash in Pennsylvania, where the legislature last year passed a law that bans convicts from inflicting “mental anguish” on their victims. Leslie said the Reporters Committee is joining civil liberties advocates in fighting that law as a restriction of free speech.

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Incarceration Doesn't Help Teen Offenders, May Harm Them, Research Shows

For many juvenile offenders, long placements in corrections or other residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than do alternative sanctions, a growing body of research is proving, says a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project. In some cases, incarceration can be counterproductive. Several states have limited which youth commitments to custody and limited the length of time they can spend there.

Pew says such changes "prioritize the use of costly facilities and intensive programming for serious offenders who present a higher risk of reoffending, while supporting effective community-based programs for others." The report cited a study of serious adolescent offenders in Arizona and Pennsylvania that found "those in placement fared no better in terms of recidivism than those on probation.A Texas study said youth in community-based  programs had lower rearrest rates than those with similar criminal histories and demographic characteristics who were freed from state facilities. A study in Chicago's Cook County said juveniles who experienced confinement were more likely to drop out of high school and to be incarcerated as adults than youth who were not incarcerated.

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In Another "Black Man Running" Death, Baltimore Mayor Seeks Answers

A 25-year-old Baltimore man died yesterday, a week after reportedly suffering a partially severed spine during an arrest. The mayor vowed “to find out exactly what happened” and “hold the right people accountable,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Baltimore police had started an investigation last week into the April 12 arrest of Freddie Gray. A police timeline said Gray was conscious and talking when officers put him into a police van after his arrest, which they said came when he ran from four bicycle officers. Less than an hour later, police summoned paramedics to take him to a hospital.

Police haven't said what crime Gray was suspected of or how he was injured. A witness video of the end of the arrest, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, showed officers carrying him toward a police van as his legs dragged on the ground. In another witness video, he could be heard screaming. "Billy" Murphy, an attorney for Gray's family, called the injuries “catastrophic.” “What we know is that while in police custody for committing no crime — for which they had no justification for making the arrest except he was a black man running — his spine was virtually severed,” Murphy said. More than 100 protesters have gathered for two days outside a Baltimore police station to demand answers about what happened to Gray.

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On Pot's "Holy Day," Political And Legal Status Of Drug In CA Is Murky

Today, April 20, or 4/20, is a cultural landmark for marijuana in U.S. society. Fueled by the legend of California high school students who in 1971 got high at 4:20 p.m. each day, “420” is a marketing term for pot doctors and retail marijuana stores stocked with designer bud strains that glisten in showcases like emeralds, says the Sacramento Bee. In many states, pot culture is becoming a feature of Americana akin to Budweiser or the backyard barbecue. State-regulated recreational marijuana sales are thriving in Colorado and Washington. Voters in 2014 approved legalization in Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. Twenty years after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana with Proposition 215, activists are vying to qualify a measure for 2016 to legalize recreational pot and regulate a state-sanctioned marijuana industry in the Golden State

The political and legal status of marijuana in California remains murky. The state has the nation’s largest marijuana marketplace with medical marijuana alone, producing $1.3 billion in taxable sales of pot. As many as 1.4 million people have doctors’ approval for medical marijuana. Yet  the massive retail-style pot industry operates largely without rules. It survives on the legal threads of nebulous 2003 state legislation allowing patients with physicians’ recommendations to collectively cultivate and share marijuana. Yesterday, President Obama told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta he accepted medical marijuana despite the federal law that bans marijuana as a dangerous narcotic with no accepted medical use. "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," he said.”



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States Report Increase In Synthetic Marijuana Health Problems

Synthetic marijuana has sent 160 people to hospitals in New York state since April 8, a spike that prompted authorities to warn Friday that the drug is dangerous and illegal, the Wall Street Journal reports. Synthetic pot is known by “spice,” ‘‘K2,” ‘‘green giant” and other street names. Statewide, poison control center calls stemming from synthetic marijuana have risen dramatically, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “Synthetic drugs are anything but harmless, and this rash of severe health emergencies across the state is direct proof,” he said.

Other states have expressed concern. Alabama public health officials said nearly 100 people had been hospitalized for problems linked to synthetic marijuana within the past month. Police in Hampton, Va., said one person died and two others were hospitalized after synthetic marijuana overdoses last weekend. In February, 40 state attorneys general signed a letter asking oil companies to make sure gas station convenience stores don’t sell synthetic drugs. In New York City, the Health Department is issuing reminders to stores that it is illegal to sell synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana consists of dried vegetation coated with chemicals that are supposed to mimic the effects of pot. Some users report that it produces a marijuana-like high, but others experience extreme anxiety, hallucinations, a rapid heart rate, vomiting and other symptoms, said the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Domestic Terrorism Cases Up; Fusion Center Effectiveness In Question

Domestic terrorism was a major focus for police and federal agents after the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 20 years ago Sunday. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, law enforcement shifted its focus from domestic to foreign terrorism. Today, while the number of violent incidents committed by domestic extremists is increasing, the holes in the net to catch them are growing larger, The Kansas City Star reports. A network of centers set up to detect and deter terrorism has done little of either, while federal funding to train law enforcement officers has been slashed. Authorities and others are beginning to raise the alarm. “Our leaders don’t seem too concerned about the threat from within,” said Daryl Johnson, a former Department of Homeland Security analyst. “My fear is that there will be some kind of mass-casualty attack, with more people dying needlessly at the hands of domestic extremists. That’s what keeps me awake at night.”

Since the 9/11  attacks,domestic extremists have killed more than 50 victims, many of them police officers, in dozens of attacks. The 78 “fusion centers” promoted by the Department of Homeland Security to be the centerpiece of terror intelligence in the wake of 9/11 has disrupted a system of police work that previously had been effective. Despite hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into them, the centers are largely autonomous and operated by disparate agencies that sometimes don’t cooperate with one another. The fusion center victories  DHS touts often have little to do with domestic terrorism. In fact, many of them involve drug busts, fugitive apprehension or natural disaster responses.

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