Congress shrinks gap in co­caine sen­tences

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

WASHINGTON — Congress on Wed­nes­day changed a quar­ter-cen­tury-old law that has sub­jected tens of thou­sands of blacks to long prison terms for crack co­caine con­vic­tions while giv­ing far more le­nient treat­ment to those, mainly whites, caught with the pow­der form of the drug.

The House, by voice vote, ap­proved a bill re­duc­ing the dis­par­i­ties be­tween manda­tory crack and pow­der co­caine sen­tences, send­ing the mea­sure to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for his sig­na­ture. Dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Obama said that the wide gap in sen­tenc­ing “can­not be jus­ti­fied and should be elim­i­nated.”

The Se­nate passed the bill in March.

The mea­sure changes a 1986 law, en­acted at a time when crack co­caine use was ram­pant and con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent drug, un­der which a per­son con­victed of crack co­caine pos­ses­sion gets the same manda­tory prison term as some­one with 100 times the same amount of pow­der co­caine.

The leg­is­la­tion re­duces that ra­tio to about 18-1.

The bill also elim­i­nates the five-year manda­tory min­i­mum for first-time pos­ses­sion of crack, the first time since the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion that Congress has re­pealed a manda­tory min­i­mum sen- tence. It would not ap­ply retroac­tively.

Rep. La­mar Smith of San An­to­nio, the top Repub­li­can on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, was the only law­maker to speak against the bill, say­ing the 1986 law was en­acted at a time when the crack co­caine epi­demic was bring­ing a sharp spike in vi­o­lence to mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties and that it would be a mis­take to change it.

Law­mak­ers take 2nd look at on­line bet­ting

With pres­sure mount­ing on the fed­eral govern­ment to find new rev­enues, Congress is con­sid­er­ing le­gal­iz­ing, and tax­ing, an ac­tiv­ity it banned four years ago: In­ter­net gam­bling.

On Wed­nes­day, the House Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee ap­proved a bill that would ef­fec­tively le­gal­ize on­line poker and other non­sports bet­ting, over­turn­ing a 2006 fed­eral ban that crit­ics say merely drove Web-based casi­nos off­shore.

The bill would di­rect the Trea­sury Depart­ment to li­cense and reg­u­late In­ter­net gam­bling op­er­a­tions, while a pend­ing com­pan­ion mea­sure would al­low the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice to tax such busi­nesses. Win­nings by in­di­vid­u­als would also be taxed, as reg­u­lar gam­bling win­nings are now. The taxes could yield as much as $42 bil­lion for the govern­ment over 10 years, sup­port­ers said.

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