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TSA sees a record number of gun detections at airports in Maryland and nationwide

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) detected a record number of guns at airports in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in 2021.

Last year, TSA officers found 72 firearms at Baltimore Washington International-Thurgood Marshall Airport, Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport — a surge from 30 firearms in 2020 and a smaller climb from 60 firearms in 2019.


In two instances near the end of 2021, two men were arrested within a four-day span at Reagan National Airport for having handguns and ammunition in their carry-on bags. One of the men had 116 bullets in his carry-on, and the other had his firearm loaded with six bullets.

And on Feb. 1, TSA cited another man at Reagan for having a loaded handgun with one bullet in the chamber. TSA stated in a press release that it’s the fifth time this year they’ve detected guns at Reagan’s checkpoints.


The increase in these kinds of events corroborates a nationwide trend. TSA announced that officers found a record number of guns throughout 2021 — nearly 6,000 firearms, totaling a rate of 10.2 guns per million passengers. The rise follows an upward trend over the last decade.

“On behalf of the dedicated TSA officers of DCA ensuring all passengers are safe flying from Reagan Airport, I want to be crystal clear,” Scott T. Johnson, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Reagan National Airport, stated in a press release. “You cannot bring a gun onto a flight—not loaded or unloaded, not locked, not even if you have a concealed carry permit.”

At airports across the country, passengers are permitted to bring their firearms only under certain requirements. Guns must be unloaded in locked containers and declared as checked baggage, according to TSA.

Failure to comply with these requirements could result in fines ranging from $4,100 to nearly $14,000.

While the increase in guns caught by TSA doesn’t necessarily imply foul play, loaded guns made up about 86% of the total firearms detected nationwide at checkpoints in 2021, according to a TSA press release.

Airports with the highest number of firearm detections are not only the busiest in the country, but are also usually found in states with the highest levels of gun ownership.


In Georgia, for example, about 39% of adults own firearms, according to data collected by RAND Corporation. And Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the busiest airport in the country, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — saw 507 gun detections throughout 2021.

In Maryland, only about 21% of adults own firearms, according to RAND. Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International, the 26th busiest airport in the country according to FAA data, only saw 23 gun detections in 2021.

Nationwide, more people have attempted to purchase guns in recent years. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that in 2020 over 8.4 million people bought a firearm for the first time. That same year, a record 21 million background checks were conducted, the foundation stated.

By: Jonathan Tercasio
Capital News Service

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Manchin seeks bipartisan ‘sweet spot’ for a new try at his energy permitting bill

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators from both parties said Wednesday they still hope to negotiate energy permitting reform bill this year, reviving efforts to streamline the process after West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III had to pull back his plan amid broad opposition.

The Manchin proposal was attached to a must-pass government funding bill as part of a deal he struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this summer to advance the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. But permitting reform was rejected by GOP senators irked by that deal and members of his own party.

large group of House Democrats — and a smaller Senate cohort — intensely opposed what they characterized as a fossil-fuel-friendly measure from the start, saying Manchin would weaken environmental protections and make it more difficult for communities to object to new construction. The House opposition was led by progressive Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva, but also included leaders of budget and spending panels.

Senate Republicans meanwhile refused to endorse the Manchin-Schumer deal that allowed the passage of Democrats’ sweeping climate, health and taxes bill this summer, even if they agreed in principle that permitting requirements should be updated.


Despite the widespread condemnation of his measure, Manchin said Wednesday he expects to keep working to get an agreement before the new year, a goal many of his fellow senators said they share.

Manchin said he plans to talk with fellow West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, when the two are back in their home state next month, noting he’s optimistic the duo can work out a final bill.

“We just have to find the sweet spot, find the middle that kind of appeases the majority,” Manchin said.

The centrist Democrat nodded when asked by a reporter if Schumer had assured him he’d try again with another floor vote.

Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County near the Blue Ridge Parkway in July 2018. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)

Mountain Valley Pipeline

After stripping Manchin’s permitting bill from the must-pass government spending package, Schumer pledged Tuesday evening to “have conversations about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Tuesday night saying President Joe Biden “supports Senator Manchin’s plan because it is necessary for our energy security, and to make more clean energy available to the American people.”

“We will continue to work with him to find a vehicle to bring this bill to the floor and get it passed and to the President’s desk,” she added.

Whether Manchin’s bill would still include the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline running from West Virginia to Virginia was unclear on Wednesday.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who was furious Manchin’s permitting reform bill included approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, said he believes there’s a good outlook for a bipartisan permitting reform bill, estimating it could get at least 70 votes in the Senate.

Work on permitting reform by the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Manchin, has already found a good starting point for a bipartisan bill, Kaine said.

“They worked on it very, very carefully,” Kaine said, noting he’s not on either of those panels. “I don’t want to tell them what their timing should be. But they’re down the road, and there’s a bipartisan group that wants to do it, including me.”

On the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Kaine said he didn’t want to get into “a hypothetical world and what might be acceptable.”

But Kaine, who has said he was not consulted about the inclusion of the pipeline in the Manchin plan, did say the way Manchin handled the pipeline in his bill wasn’t the right way to go.

“It was taking something out of permitting and saying, ‘You don’t have to comply,’” Kaine said. “But permitting reforms could make the process better, and then Mountain Valley and others could have a better process to go through.”

Republicans want another try

During a brief interview Wednesday, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines said he hopes there’s a way for Democrats and Republicans to draft a bill after the elections and before the next Congress begins that both parties could support.

“It’s an issue that we need to address. And it’s a significant obstacle to continue to allow us to develop our natural resources,” Daines said. “It’s not just about energy. It’s also about forestry. It’s about mining, and it takes way too long to get projects approved.”

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said a permitting reform bill is essential for lawmakers who want to see more fossil fuel extraction as well as those who want “cleaner forms of energy.”

“I hope we can sit down and put together a permitting bill,” Kennedy said. “I mean, no fair-minded person can believe that it should take five, seven, eight years to get a project permitted in America. I don’t care what the project is.”

Kennedy said the rejection of Manchin’s permitting reform bill was about more than just signaling the GOP wanted a more bipartisan bill.

He said it was about members of both parties sending a message to Manchin following months of negotiations on the Democrats’ spending package from this summer that included money for renewable energy, among dozens of other provisions.

“What I saw happen yesterday — how can I explain this — two wrongs rarely make it right, but they do make it even,” Kennedy said. “And what happened yesterday was people who are unhappy with Senator Manchin, on both sides of the aisle, made it even.”

“We now have a fresh start, and I hope we can sit down and put together a permitting bill,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he’d like a final, bipartisan energy permitting reform bill to set firm end dates for studies into energy projects.

“I don’t want to foreclose anybody’s right to study or object, but have some hard and fast rule saying this is the end of the process,” he said. “Two or three years is plenty of time for people to be able to study a project before a decision has to be made.”

Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy said more lawmakers than just Schumer and Manchin need to be involved in drafting the measure if it’s going to have any chance of becoming law and improving the energy permitting process.

“I’d like to have some sort of shot clock with teeth so that agencies can’t just sit on an application and do a pocket veto of things that otherwise meet every criteria. This permitting reform did not really have that,” Cassidy said.

He said he doesn’t mind if a bipartisan bill gets attached to an unrelated must-pass bill, saying he’s “never a purist on procedure.”

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he’d like to have more input in negotiating the permitting reform bill.

Tricky path

If senators, and possibly their U.S. House colleagues, work out a bipartisan bill, Schumer will have to decide how to move the legislation through the floor.

Given the amount of time it takes to move stand-alone legislation on the U.S. Senate floor, and the short amount of time the chamber will be in Washington, D.C., during the lame duck session following the midterm elections, several lawmakers have floated the idea of attaching permitting reform to a must-pass bill.

One possible option is the National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon’s annual policy bill, which Schumer has said the chamber will take up during October.

That option might not be especially appealing to panel members who have traditionally walled off the bill from policy proposals that aren’t directly related to defense or national security.

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, said Wednesday she doesn’t want to see a permitting reform bill tacked onto the defense policy bill.

“I don’t know that that’s a good idea. I’ll be honest,” Ernst said. “I’d rather see germane amendments being placed, and we have a lot of amendments that we would like to see come up that are germane. So to have one that’s not germane be placed upon the NDAA would probably create some heartache.”

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Afghan evacuees press for bill that could help give them US legal status

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WASHINGTON – For 105 days, beginning in December 2021, Afghan-American Safi Rauf lived in an 8×8-foot cell in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with few connections to the outside world.
Now, he is running a 24-hour “fireguard” with dozens of other volunteers outside the United States Capitol to raise support for the Afghan Adjustment Act.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, meets last week with a group of supporters holding a “fire watch” outside the United States Capitol in support of the Afghan Adjustment Act. (Eve Sampson/Capital News Service)

The bipartisan bill, introduced in both the House and the Senate, would provide Afghans who worked with the United States during the 20-year war in Afghanistan a clear path to legal residency.

The Afghan Adjustment Act was not included in the stopgap spending bill to fund the federal government after Friday. Supporters hope it will be included in the upcoming defense policy bill or an expected continuing resolution in December.


The Department of Homeland Security reports that approximately 82,000 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States since the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rise to power.

Most evacuees live in this country under humanitarian parole status, which normally lasts two years. The bill would allow Afghans who pass additional vetting to apply for permanent legal status.

Rauf, a Navy reservist and the founder and president of Human First Coalition, a nonprofit that works to provide humanitarian aid and resettlement assistance to vulnerable Afghans, estimates his organization has evacuated over 10,000 people from Afghanistan in the last year.

The nonprofit chartered several flights after U.S. forces left Afghanistan. But when visiting the country for a planning trip last December, Rauf and his brother, Anees Khalil, who also works for Human First Coalition, were taken hostage by the Taliban and tortured.

“You cannot prepare for something like that,” he told Capital News Service. “Every day was incredibly hard. Initially, they put us in a basement that was not really fit for living. It was just a basement that did not have any ventilation, any blankets, any mattresses.”

Rauf said he and his brother were forced to go a month without showering while wearing the same clothes.

Bathroom breaks were scheduled and supervised, and meals were scarce – meager portions of tea, rice, beans, and bread. Rauf said his captors left the lights on all day. He spent most of his time lying down, marking a calendar he scrawled on the wall.

The brothers eventually attempted multiple hunger strikes to protest their treatment.

Eventually, the U.S. government secured the brothers’ release on April 1.

“Our world basically stopped on December 18,” Rauf said. “When I got out on April 1st, the world had moved on.”

Still, Rauf cannot slow down. He is haunted by the hundreds of calls he still receives from Afghans begging for help.

“I’m still getting chaotic messages from people who are scared for their lives,” he said. “The administration is doing their best, but how do you work with a de-facto authority that doesn’t recognize human rights?”

In folding chairs outside the Capitol building, former Afghan pilots and parliamentary members are among the volunteers who help themselves to traditional Afghan food while petitioning for the legislation’s passage. The American flag waves alongside the Afghan flag in front of a folding table with information about the bill.

On Thursday evening, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who introduced the bill in the Senate, came out to the lawn for an impromptu visit with the group.

Addressing the volunteers, who included members of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, Women for Afghan Women, and various former military members, Kloubacher thanked the group for continuing to campaign for Afghans.

“I thank you for sitting out here on the lawn to remind our colleagues that promises made, promises kept,” she said, her hand upon the shoulder of an Afghan woman. “And there (are) promises made to the people who stood on the side of democracy and freedom with our military in Afghanistan.”

 

By EVE SAMPSON
Capital News Service

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Key U.S. Senate panel advances bill aimed at preventing another Jan. 6

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Tuesday passed legislation that would update an 1887 elections law and clarify how electoral votes are certified, hoping to prevent another attempt to overturn a presidential election.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, put forth the bill, known as the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act. The aim of the legislation is to deter another Jan. 6 insurrection, in which former President Donald Trump tried to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election by citing the 19th-century law.

“On that day, enemies of our democracy sought to use this antiquated law to thwart the results of a free and fair election,” Klobuchar said in her opening remarks.

The bill passed on a nearly unanimous vote, 14-1. The only senator present to vote against it was Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.


Cruz called it a “bad bill” and questioned why Republicans would support it.

“This bill is all about Donald J. Trump,” Cruz said.

Sens. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York were not present but voted yes by proxy.

The U.S. House passed its version of the bill earlier in September, 229-203, with nine Republicans joining Democrats. Virginia’s House delegation split into party lines, with all Democrats voting for the measure and all Republicans voting against it.

Trump and Pence

Blunt said there was broad support on both sides of the aisle to update the act after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in which Trump pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. The vice president’s role in the certification of electoral votes isn’t exactly clear in the Electoral Count Act.

“We found out last year it’s outdated and needed reform,” Blunt said.

U.S. House passes bill reforming Electoral Count Act to stop Jan. 6 repeat

Klobuchar, who leads the committee, said it took months of bipartisan effort from the committee and other Senate colleagues to put the bill together.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said the committee did not try to “reinvent the wheel” but took a very careful approach to update the law.

“We did spend a lot of time trying to get it right,” Warner said.

He added that he wanted the committee to consider protecting elections from future cyberattacks.

Bipartisan backing

The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate.

Sens. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, worked to gather the support of 11 Republican and 11 Democratic senators to cosponsor the measure, meeting the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the legislation past a filibuster.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said he “proudly supports” the overhaul of the Electoral Count Act.

“I strongly support the modest changes our colleagues in the working group have fleshed out after months of detailed discussions,” McConnell said.

The timing of the bill’s final passage is still unclear, though it could come up during the lame-duck session of Congress expected after the election.

“We’ll move into next year with this done,” Blunt said.

Schumer has not announced when he will bring the bill to the Senate for a vote.

“Make no mistake,” Schumer said in a statement. “(A)s our country continues to face the threat of the anti-democracy MAGA Republican movement — propelled by many GOP leaders who either refused to take a stand or actively stoked the flames of division in our country — reforming the Electoral Count Act ought to be the bare minimum of action the Congress takes.”

Senate version

The Senate bill has two provisions, the Electoral Count Reform Act and the Presidential Transition Improvement Act.

The Electoral Count Reform Act states that the vice president’s role in presiding over Congress when certifying electors is ceremonial and that the vice president does not have the power to object, accept or adjudicate disputes over electors.

Most notably, it also raises the threshold for lawmakers to make an objection to electors. Under current law, only one U.S. House representative and one U.S. senator need to make an objection to an elector or slate of electors. Under the new law, that would be raised to one-fifth of members from both chambers to lodge an objection.

The act also adds several reforms for electors from each state. It identifies each state’s governor as the official responsible for submitting the state’s official document that identifies the state’s appointed electors and says that Congress cannot accept that document from any official besides the governor.

“This reform would address the potential for multiple state officials to send Congress competing slates,” according to the bill’s summary.

This reform was included because Trump and his campaign tried to replace legitimate slates of electors in several states with fake electors who would cast ballots for Trump, an effort detailed by the Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

The act also provides an expedited judicial review of any challenges made and removes a provision in the law “that could be used by state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states by declaring a ‘failed election’ — a term that is not defined in the law,” according to the bill’s summary. The bill reforms this by stating a state can move its presidential election day to the following first Monday in November every four years only if needed due to “extraordinary and catastrophic” events.

The Presidential Transition Improvement Act provides “guidelines for when eligible candidates for President and Vice President may receive federal resources to support their transition into office,” according to the bill’s summary.

by Ariana Figueroa, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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U.S. House GOP outlines agenda in bid for control in the midterms

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WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans gathered inside a warehouse in Southwestern Pennsylvania on Friday to outline the legislation they will try to enact if voters give them back control of that chamber following the November midterm elections.

Speaking from an HVAC factory in Monongahela, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said the first bill he’d bring to the floor if elected speaker would repeal part of a Democratic law that boosted funding for the Internal Revenue Service.

“On that very first day that we’re sworn in, you’ll see that it all changes because on our very first bill, we’re going to repeal 87,000 IRS agents,” McCarthy said, using a number Democrats have repeatedly said isn’t an accurate representation of what the funding boost would do. “Our job is to work for you, not go after you.”

None of the proposals that were sketched out came with a price tag showing how much a Republican House would change spending compared to current levels. Republicans also said they’d “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers” but did not detail exactly what nationwide abortion restrictions they’d bring to the floor or how they’d address maternal mortality rates.


Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who would likely move from whip to majority leader if his party regained control, said Republicans would put forward bills to reduce inflation and bring down energy costs.

“We wanted to lay out a bold, conservative vision to show the country there’s hope again,” Scalise said. “The commitment to America is going to show the country, if you give us a Republican majority in the House, these are the things we will do.”

Democrats broadly panned the Republicans’ rollout of their plan.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said during a speech in Pittsburgh that the House GOP’s “new platform, which isn’t new at all, is long on slogans and short on details.”

Campaigns underway

Democrats narrowly hold the House, maintaining 221 seats to Republicans’ 212 members, with two vacancies.

Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into swing districts throughout the country, hoping to convince voters that their vision for the country’s future is the best path forward following a tumultuous few years that included a pandemic, a Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by Donald Trump supporters hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and record inflation.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, ending half a century of a constitutionally protected right to an abortion, is also playing out on the campaign trail.

Democrats have repeatedly urged voters to reject GOP abortion policies by keeping them in control of both chambers of Congress, while Republicans have tried to sidestep the issue in some more contentious races.

Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate John Fetterman has highlighted Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s relative silence on a new bill from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham that would cap most abortions at 15 weeks nationwide.

“Oz is a fraud who does not even have the guts to give a yes or no answer when it comes to how we would vote on the abortion ban bill that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate,” Fetterman said in a statement Friday. “He’s dodging this very real question and thinks Pennsylvanians won’t notice.”

That close race in the Keystone State and others likely drew the Republicans and Hoyer to its southwest corner on Friday.

Four planks

The Republicans’ Commitment to America has four broad planks. Three focus on economic issues, national security and crime, and government transparency. The fourth includes health care, technology, and education policy.

The economic category proposes a Republican-held U.S. House would reduce government spending, though it declines to say where lawmakers would cut federal funding. It also says the party would boost domestic energy production and expand U.S. manufacturing.

To address national security issues, the House GOP plans to “fully fund effective border enforcement strategies,” support 200,000 additional police officers through bonuses and “invest in an efficient, effective military.”

House Republicans say if voters give them back control of that chamber, they will create a “future built on freedom,” in part by preventing transgender women from competing in women’s sports and lowering health care prices by boosting competition.

The proposal also calls for the GOP to “save and strengthen” Social Security and Medicare, though it doesn’t provide details about how they’d change the longstanding popular social programs that primarily serve the elderly.

Those two entitlement programs and Medicaid are categorized as mandatory government spending, meaning they run mostly on autopilot and represent the fastest-growing section of federal spending.

Abortion bills

Under the section on government accountability, Republicans tackle abortion without specifics, though during this session of Congress, House Republicans have introduced more than 100 bills addressing abortion in some way.

One bill, from Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, would bar abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and sometimes before a woman knows she’s pregnant.

The measure, which has 123 co-sponsors, has an exemption for abortions that are essential to save the pregnant patient’s life, but not for rape or incest.

Legislation from West Virginia Rep. Alex Mooney, backed by 166 co-sponsors, would “implement equal protection for the right to life” at the moment of fertilization.

The legislation doesn’t detail if or when women would be able to access abortions, including in cases of ectopic pregnancies, which are never viable, or miscarriages that sometimes require the same medications or procedures as elective abortions.

A 20-week abortion ban, sponsored by New Jersey Rep. Christopher Smith, has the backing of 173 House Republicans. The proposal includes exceptions after 20 weeks of pregnancy if it’s the result of rape or incest, but only if the patient “has obtained counseling for the rape” or “has obtained medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape.”

A child whose pregnancy results from rape or incest would be allowed abortion after 20 weeks if the minor has reported the crime to a “government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse,” or law enforcement, under Smith’s legislation.

Abortions after 20 weeks would also be legal if the pregnancy would endanger the patient’s life because of a physical illness or injury, but not “psychological or emotional conditions.”

Investigations promised

U.S. House Republicans at the rollout celebration Friday didn’t mention their abortion proposals but detailed many other aspects of their plan for a GOP majority, including investigations.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan pledged that various committees would hold investigations into the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of COVID-19, and various actions by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We are committed to doing the investigations that need to be done,” Jordan said. “After all, that is part of our constitutional duty, to do the oversight and make sure you, the country, we, the people, have the facts and the truth.”

On education policy, Louisiana Rep. Julia Letlow said Republicans would bring up her so-called Parents Bill of Rights, which would impose new national regulations on state and local education bodies.

The legislation would require local education agencies to post curricula for elementary and secondary schools on a public website or widely disseminate them to the community if they don’t have a website.

Local education agencies would need to create annual report cards detailing all revenues and expenditures for the entire school system as well as each school.

“This is common sense legislation. It’s just about providing transparency for us,” Letlow said. “And so you, as a parent, should always — the first and foremost thing, be able to view your child’s curriculum.”

“And then secondly, if you don’t like what you find, if you don’t like what you see, you should be able to go to your school board and lawfully tell them this needs to change. You should have that right as a parent,” she added.

Parents would also be granted the right to know if states change their academic standards, to meet at least twice a year with their child’s teacher, to review the books and reading material in the school library, and to receive information about violence within the school.

Democrats push back

Hoyer, in Pittsburgh, said there were few specifics from Republicans “because the true details of Republicans’ agenda are too frightening for most American voters. Details matter, however.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Republicans’ policy goals threaten “to criminalize women’s health care, slash seniors’ Medicare and raise prescription drug prices, and attack our free and fair elections.”

“These appalling proposals have long been advanced by right-wing politicians and are widely supported by the dark money special interests who call the shots in the GOP,” the California Democrat said. “But this extreme MAGA agenda is way out of step with Americans’ priorities, who align with Democrats’ vision of putting people over politics: with lower costs, better-paying jobs and safer communities.”

President Joe Biden, speaking at a Democratic National Committee event at the National Education Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., rebuked House Republicans’ plan, saying it was “a thin series of policy goals, with little or no detail.”

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Release of Adnan Syed focuses attention on Maryland wrongful prosecutions

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BALTIMORE – Attorney Erica Suter recalled the disbelief in the voice of her high-profile client, Adnan Syed, the subject of the viral podcast “Serial,” when the judge told him he was being released from prison after 23 years for a murder Syed says he did not commit.

“At the trial table, he turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe it’s real,’” Suter said.

Troy Burner, 50, remembers that feeling. Burner, who also lives in Maryland, spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before a judge ruled in 2018 that, like Syed, prosecutors had failed to give him a fair trial.

According to records and attorneys at the Innocence Project, Syed and Burner are just two of thousands of cases of wrongful prosecution.


At least 3,000 exonerated individuals in the U.S. have spent a combined 25,000 years of their lives behind bars due to wrongful prosecution as of March 2022, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a database compiled by the University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.

They were there because of false confessions, failures to disclose relevant evidence, and criminal justice systems lacking reform have led to thousands of wrongful prosecutions, said Suter, an attorney in the Office of the Public Defender.

“It’s not just one factor,” said Suter, also the director of the Innocence Project Clinic in Baltimore. “It’s a function of how our system was designed.”

Syed was freed after a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled the prosecution had withheld critical evidence at his trial that could have prevented his conviction.

Syed’s release points to the prevalence of such prosecutorial conduct. In Baltimore, Suter said that 80% of recorded exonerations involved the state withholding evidence.

In 2021, there were 161 exonerations in the U.S., and official misconduct occurred in 102 of those cases, according to the national registry. Of the 102 cases with official misconduct, 59 were homicide cases.

When prosecutorial misconduct is found, seldom are there repercussions, according to studies.

The Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s premier publications, looked into 11,000 homicide cases nationwide between 1963 and 1999 with prosecutorial misconduct. The publication found that out of the cases with substantial prosecutorial misconduct, “not a single state disciplinary agency publicly sanctioned any of the prosecutors,” according to The Innocence Project’s Prosecutorial Oversight report.

The Liman Prosecutorial Misconduct Research Project at Yale University conducted a study that surveyed disciplinary practices and ethical rules of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., and found that the workers who are most likely to find prosecutorial misconduct, such as prosecutors and defense attorneys, do not report it because they work in “a culture that does not support reporting, poor administrative processes and professional disincentives,” according to the oversight report.

There may or may not be repercussions in Syed’s case, said State’s Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby. Part of the reason is establishing intent from the prosecutor, she said.

“Sometimes it’s due to negligence,” Mosby said. “Sometimes it’s intentional. It’s really difficult to prove an intentional sort of misconduct.

“I have not yet seen any vindictive prosecution. I haven’t seen any sort of charges or appeals that are lodged against prosecutors. You have to establish intent, and oftentimes negligence is not criminal intent.”

Arrested at 17 for allegedly killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, Syed could have spent the rest of his life in prison if it weren’t for Maryland’s Juvenile Restoration Act.

Passed by the General Assembly in 2021, the law says individuals who were arrested at the time of the crime as a juvenile and have served at least 20 years can request the court to take another look at their sentence.

Syed remains under house detention for the next 27 days, awaiting a decision from Mosby’s office whether he will be retried or exonerated.

In an interview with Capital News Service, Mosby said her decision is dependent on the outcome of the DNA evidence connected with Syed’s case.

“If the DNA comes back and it’s some other person, then clearly, I’m going to go in, and I’m going to certify his innocence,” she said. “But if it comes back to him, then that’s a consideration, in light of all the negative contributing factors that we utilize to ask for a new trial.”

Suter said she expects to see a new trial date set for 2023 because the state must decide within 30 days from Syed’s release Monday whether to retry the case, and the results of the tests of the DNA evidence probably will not be back before then. A new trial date, however, does not mean the state will retry Syed.

Even if the case is dropped, Syed will have spent more than half of his life in prison.

Burner said nothing could make up for his time spent in prison. He said he spent half of his life behind bars based on five false and ever-changing testimonies of one witness who placed him at a Washington, D.C., crime scene.

In Burner’s case, he was released from prison because of the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act of 2016, which allows people under 18 years of age to petition the court for a retrial after the crime they served at least 15 years.

He was convicted in 1994 for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

“I lay [in prison] multiple times a day, and I just sit there, and to be quite frank, in my mind, I will say, I wish that I did actually do it because, for me, that would have satisfied my conscience that I was in there for a reason,” Burner said.

At the time of his conviction, Burner said he was an amateur boxer hoping to go professional. He also worked for the Department of Public and Assisted Housing, now the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said he was one month away from being certified in home building and maintenance repair.

His hopes and dreams were crushed after being convicted, he said.

“Going into the courtroom, I can still remember today and hear the screams from my mom,” Burner said. “I went in feeling like a dead-beat, and I failed in many ways.”

Burner was released on parole in 2018 and exonerated from his charges in March 2020.

Under Washington, D.C.’s compensation bill, Burner should have received $200,000 for every year spent in prison. A portion of Burner’s compensation was devoted to the Venable-Burner Exoneree Support Fund, which provides financing to hire mentors and navigators for exonerees to help them re-enter the world after being released from prison, he said.

Under Maryland’s exoneree compensation law, which went into effect July 1, 2022, Syed would receive the state’s median annual income for each year he was imprisoned.

Burner said he found his purpose working with the Justice Policy Institute and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, advocating and building awareness for wrongfully convicted people like him.

“I’m a fighter by nature,” Burner said. “So, I understand when you lose that hope, you lose yourself. So, being here now, I just try to be and create and show that hope that guys [who] aspire to one day, see the world again, that they got somebody out here working for them.”

By Abby Zimmardi and Shannon Clark 
Capital News Service 

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Beagles rescued from Virginia dog-breeding facility get star treatment in D.C.

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A beagle was rescued from the Envigo medical dog-breeding facility in Cumberland County, Virginia, at a Capitol Hill event on Sept. 22, 2022. (Jennifer Shutt / States Newsroom D.C. Bureau)

WASHINGTON — Now-famous beagles rescued from a breeding and research facility in Virginia were on Capitol Hill on Thursday as an animal welfare group and a California congressman pushed for legislation that would promote the adoption of research animals.

“It’s unfortunate that animals are still allowed to be used in testing. That hopefully is going to go away very, very soon. But while it’s happening, we can do better,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-California.

The beagles came from a controversial Envigo medical dog-breeding facility in Cumberland County that shut down under pressure from federal regulators because of a string of animal welfare violations, the Virginia Mercury has reported.  Federal agents in May seized hundreds of dogs and puppies found to be “in acute distress.”


A judge in July approved a plan to move 4,000 beagles from the facility to shelters for adoption, making national headlines. One adopter turned out to be Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, who are now living in California.

Virginia lawmakers pass new regulations for controversial beagle breeding facility

On Thursday, several of the beagles were at the Capitol to get petted and shown off at a “meet and greet” and to help make a point about animal research.

Cárdenas, a California Democrat, introduced a bill last October that would require any facility receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health to make “reasonable efforts” to adopt any dog, cat, or rabbit deemed suitable for adoption once that animal is no longer needed for biomedical and behavioral research.

The legislation has just four other co-sponsors: Joe Neguse of Colorado, Jimmy Panetta of California, Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey, and Dina Titus of Nevada.

When asked about the strategy for reaching the level of support the bill would need to clear the House and the Senate, Cárdenas told States Newsroom that he plans to push back on criticism from the medical research industry that the measure is “too onerous.”

“I don’t buy that,” he said.

Monica Engebretson, North America campaign manager for Cruelty-Free International, said 15 states require animal research facilities to offer dogs and cats they no longer want for adoption. But she believes a nationwide law is needed.

Engebretson said the group has had some success in the past in getting policy changes enacted through the annual legislation that funds the NIH, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and hopes to do so again with this current policy proposal.

The NIH’s website says that it’s “committed to continuing to develop non-animal model alternative methods.” However, it notes that “we are not at a point where alternative approaches can completely replace the use of animals at this time.”

“The alternatives simply cannot accurately replicate or model all the biologic and behavioral aspects of human disease,” NIH writes. “Until that time, animal models will remain integral for NIH-supported research.”

The NIH also has an Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. But neither its Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals nor its Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals includes any proposals or suggestions for whether cats, dogs, and bunnies should be available for adoption after they are no longer needed.

The office notes on its website that it “supports the safety and protection of animals and reminds institutions that their policies must clarify the disposition of animals acquired for research once the research has ended, which may include adoption.” It also says it “will not assume legal or financial responsibility for any adoption program” of research animals.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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