Florida Gov. Rick Scott has compared the Obama administration to HBO's "Sopranos" mob family, saying he's being strong-armed into expanding Medicaid under Obamacare because the feds want to phase out the low-income health program that he prefers.
"They're using bullying tactics to attack our state," the Republican told Fox News ...
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an important, long overdue hearing on federal civil asset forfeiture laws and the need for reform to curtail or end abuse by the Internal Revenue Service and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Witnesses include an innocent victim of civil asset forfeiture, Russ Caswell, whose family's motel in Tewksbury, Massachusetts was wrongfully seized by the government in September 2009 because it had "facilitated" criminal activity. He was never charged with or convicted of a crime, but his motel, in the eyes of the government, was guilty.
In civil asset forfeiture cases, the burden of proof rests on the property owner, meaning that Caswell had to fight the government in court to get back his motel, which he and his wife planned to sell to enhance their retirement. Caswell did fight the seizure, and he won, but it was a costly process. He had to borrow $60,000 to pay legal fees and his wife's health worsened during the more than three-year battle.
Caswell feels that he was targeted because his $1+ million motel, which was paid off, was worth more than other similar properties in the area. After his unfortunate and unnecessary experience, he now calls civil asset forfeiture "legalized theft," and he's absolutely right. But his story is just one of many that shows the abuse of federal civil asset forfeiture laws and perverse profit motive often behind seizures.
During the hearing, not long after Caswell told his story, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) explained how federal civil asset forfeiture undermines basic constitutional principles. "The Constitution states that no person shall 'be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.' Despite this protection, the testimony today and recent news reports suggest that due process is often ignored when it comes to civil asset forfeiture," he said. "While we all agree that crime should not pay, federal forfeiture laws have enabled and incentivized law enforcement practices that threaten our liberty."
Lee's first round of questioning was primarily directed at Darpana Sheth, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest firm that assisted Caswell. The Utah conservative's line of inquiry demonstrated how the federal government, in 1985, began incentivizing state and local law enforcement to abuse civil asset forfeiture laws. The federal government will adopt property seized by state and local level and send up to 80 percent of the proceeds, known as "equitable sharing," back to them through the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund.
"Before 1985, proceeds from civil forfeitures went to a general fund, where Congress had control over how that money was spent. But in 1985, the law was change to create the Asset Forfeiture Fund, giving the Justice Department direct control," Sheth told Lee. "Since that time, the funds have grown exponentially. In 1986, after the forfeiture fund was created, it was only $93.7 million in deposits. Twenty years later, annual deposits regularly top over $1 billion. And the same is true with the Treasury Forfeiture Fund."
Sheth, who says administrative reforms announced by the Justice Department are inadequate, doesn't believe the explosion in of dollars in the federal asset forfeiture funds is coincidental. "I think there's a direct correlation," she said. "You know, it's a financial incentive, and people respond to incentives."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is working on legislation that would offer some fundamental civil asset forfeiture reforms. Though his bill is in the draft stage and hasn't been made public, Grassley offered some insight into how far he's willing to go to rein in abuse of federal law.
"Civil asset forfeiture leads government to exceed its just powers over the governed. It encourages law enforcement to take short cuts. Rather than prosecute or even arrest, civil asset forfeiture enables law enforcement to seize property without any proof of wrongdoing. And the process creates perverse incentives," Grassley said in his opening statement. "When this occurs without pursuing a criminal conviction, or even an arrest, the chances rise that the rights of innocent people will be violated."
In his disingenuous defense of federal civil asset forfeiture law, Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, noted that Grassley's draft bill would bring to an end the Justice Department's "equitable sharing" program, which has facilitated this brand of government overreach. The Iowa Republican, who's opposed other much-needed justice reforms, criticized Canterbury's testimony.
"I am troubled that the FOP’s written testimony...dismisses the need for real reform and demonstrates the absurdity of a system of justice in which some in law enforcement appear to value funding their own operations over protecting civil rights," said Grassley. "No one in law enforcement has offered constructive legislative alternatives. I hope that will change. Legislation is necessary."
Though Grassley, Lee, and several witnesses made a clear and compelling case for federal civil asset forfeiture reform. Not everyone on the committee was convinced, demonstrating that even though there is momentum on Capitol Hill, it will be a difficult process. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), for example, rejected any meaningful reform effort, ostensibly suggesting that the government can ignore the constitutional protections that Lee cited earlier in the hearing.
There may be a long process ahead, but constitutional conservatives, like Lee, will continue to make the case and push for federal civil asset forfeiture reform, as will innocent victims like Russ Caswell. "[E]ven though I won my case, I will continue to fight for civil-forfeiture reform," Caswell told the committee. "I will do everything in my power to make sure that no other American has to endure what I did."
A group of states and energy companies have joined to sue the EPA over the agency’s Clean Power Plan. The two cases, State of West Virginia v. EPA and In re Murray Energy Company, were combined and oral arguments were heard before the DC Circuit this Thursday.
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan was proposed last year and is expected to be finalized this summer. The plan requires cuts in carbon emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030. There are intermediate standards that must be met starting in 2020. Similar to ObamaCare, the plan calls for state to establish their own measures to meet the standards. But if the state fails to create its own plan, the federal government will set up a plan for them.
According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation the Clean Power Plan could cause significant reliability challenges. The CPP would affect nearly 3,000 power plants that account for approximately 65% of current capacity in the United States. This is because it could result in the closing of a third of all coal-powered plants, a loss of enough energy to power the lives of 57 million Americans. This reduction of energy on the grid could lead to brownouts and would definitely increase the cost of electricity. A study by Balanced Energy for Texas the CPP would increase the average Texas household’s gas and electricity fees by $1,060 a year.
The cases brought up two questions for the court. First, whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue since the rules have not yet been finalized by the EPA. Second, and if the court reaches the merits in the case, whether the EPA can regulate existing power plants under §111(d) when they are already regulated under §112.
This second question centers around a dispute over two amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, one from the House and one from the Senate. Both amendments were adopted into the Statutes at Large but only the House amendment was adopted into the U.S. Code.
Petitioners argue that the Senate amendment has no meaning and it was a simple error that it was included in the Statutes at Large. If the House amendment is accepted then the EPA would not be able to regulate existing power plants because they are already regulated in another section of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan would fall apart.
The EPA argues that both the House and Senate versions are valid and this creates an inconsistency. Because of this inconsistency, the EPA argues they should be granted Chevron deference and the Clean Power Plan should be ruled valid.
By their line of questioning, two of the three judges appear likely to dismiss the case for lack of standing. Their argument was that since the EPA’s rule has not been finalized, there is no guarantee that the rule will be implemented and any challenge is premature. However, if the court does reach the merits, two of the judges seemed to side with petitioners that the EPA had exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act in proposing their Clean Power Plan. Although the DC Circuit court may rule the petitioners lack standing and not get to the merits of the case, there will be more lawsuits filed as soon as the EPA finalizes their rules this summer.
While the EPA is defending its Clean Power Plan in court, Congress has introduced legislation to protect the states from harmful EPA regulations. The Ratepayer Protection Act, authored by Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), would allow governors to reject the Clean Power Plan if they determine it will adversely affect their ratepayers or theirs state’s electricity reliability.
Whether accomplished through the courts or the legislature, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan must be stopped before we see a large rise in electricity prices and a reduction in electricity reliability.Support the REINS Act to Stop Executive Rulemaking
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera broke Florida's ethics law and should pay nearly $60,000 in fines and restitution, a state panel concluded on Friday.
The Miami Republican, who has been a long-time friend of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, is accused of double-billing taxpayers for travel expenses ...
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A state senator who resigned last month amid an ethics probe will get a pension of more than more than $1,300 a month.
Former Sen. Phil Griego will begin receiving payments this month and said he has no qualms about drawing the pension because he earned ...
The prime minister of Italy, with President Obama at his side, downplayed reports Friday that Christian migrants were targeted for death by Muslims who threw them overboard and drowned them in the Mediterranean Sea during a recent crossing from Libya.
At a joint White House press conference, Italian Prime Minister ...
SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A Portland-based activist group has filed paperwork for a ballot measure boosting the statewide minimum wage to $15.
The group, 15 Now Oregon, revealed plans Friday for a statewide campaign next year. It proposes gradually raising the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019....
Rev. C.L. Bryant came to Sticky Fingers in Summerville, SC and took the town by storm. For those of you who were not able to attend the presentation by C.L. Bryant last night at the meeting of the Lowcountry Conservatives in Action in Summerville, you missed an absolute treat!! Rev. C.L. Bryant certainly had the fire in his belly last night and he ignited that same fire in ours! He spoke of leadership, liberty, and America. He told us about the Presidential candidates and that "We will not settle this time."
Some of his comments were directed to a strong group of black conservatives who attended. One individual, a long time Democrat, who was a little skeptical when asked to attend, said he agreed with just about everything Rev. Bryant said. He was surprised at the pleasantness of the people there and now understood that TEA Party stood for "Taxed Enough Already." This was a far cry from the evil, racist description he had been given by the media. He left with a huge smile on his face and plans to come back.
Rev. Bryant introduced a young black Charleston Southern University student and accomplished artist, Christopher Johnson (CJ), that he met that day at the Black America-Solutions for Our Future panel discussion. CJ brought a few of his painting to share with the group and presented one to Rev. Bryant as a gift.
All in all it was a fantastic night of fellowship. Rev. Bryant brings that spark needed to re-ignite our passion for liberty. He has assured us that he will be returning to do more for our community and it's people. We need his passion and we need his message of empowerment.
Check out the photos from Rev. Bryant's South Carolina tour in the photo gallery above.Learn More About Empower
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - A Homeland Security Department internal watchdog says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could have saved millions of dollars on charter flights carrying deported immigrants to their home countries by not leaving seats empty.
The Inspector General report says ICE Air flights, which mostly returned deported immigrants ...
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that the next president of the United States needs to be someone with "deep experience as an executive," naming several crises he had to deal with as the longest-serving governor in state history that nobody had explicitly prepared him for.
"I will suggest ...
It may not fit in with his presidential campaign plans, but you never know. Sen. Rand Paul is now the subject of a biographical comic book, done up in in graphic novel style, and billing him as a "political powerhouse" and the "intellectual godfather of the tea party.
As part ...
As we usher in spring down here in the south, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some art that focuses on nature without the environmental dogma that is so rampant in the art community. David Joyner is a self-taught artist from my home state of Florida. Much of his work reflects aquatic themes and the vibrant colors of his world. As always, I am pleased to share art with you that illustrates the beauty and of realism.
Artist Statement: David Joyner, Wildlife Painter
I feel that the art world is more concerned with ideology than talent. It has become a place where the more offensive a painting is, the more it is praised. Art should demonstrate something beautiful. It should not be made out of spite or for shock value. Very often, it is created at the expense of my Christian beliefs. I don’t understand the hatred.
That being said, I am a firm believer in the First Amendment promise to freedom of speech. I believe in the right of others to make art that I find distasteful. I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, will also utilize my first amendment right to speak up for my values. No more sitting by and watching our culture turn to dust.
This is why I have partnered with an organization by the name of Liberatchik. We are a group of conservative artists who want to promote artwork that is not controlled by the liberal art critics. At one time I thought that I was the only conservative artist on the planet. I now know that I am not alone.
I love Jesus, I love my family, and a I love my country. I, as an artist, will strive to be a beacon which demonstrates my love for these. This is how I will contribute to the best of my ability to take back our culture.
I am saying this as a husband and a father who prays that there are other patriots who feel this way. If so, join with me in supporting www.liberatchik.com.
You can see my personal art and blog here: http://blog.davidjoynerart.com/?p=88See more at Liberatchik
President Obama blasted Senate Republicans Friday for delaying a vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, calling it a "crazy situation" and "embarrassing."
"It's gone too far," Mr. Obama said at a press conference at the White House. "What are we doing here? Enough. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a ...
President Obama on Friday pressed Congress to act quickly and grant him the trade authority he needs to finalize major deals with Asia and other markets.
Speaking at a White House press conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Mr. Obama praised an agreement reached Thursday between key lawmakers in ...