Saturday, May 28, 2005

That Silly Badger

I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so I always try to keep track of what's going on 'back home,' especially in politics.

Back in the day, it was a pretty interesting political landscape. Milwaukee had a socialist mayor for years (hence the fantastic public park system), and inevitably had a pretty even mix of Democrats and Republicans scattered throughout the rest of the elected positions. Splinter parties did well, too. Robert LaFollette, who, with Teddy Roosevelt, helped the Bullmoose Party get its legs, was from Wisconsin. The concept of a "Progressive Party" did well there.

Russ Feingold is a current Wisconsin Democrat. He worked with Sen. John McCain to pass a bill that would try to clean up the money flows in campaign financing. Unfortunately, Wisconsin also has Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Republican).

His latest contribution to America is H.R. 1528 , which is a pretty dramatic attempt to 'protect' children from the evil drug lords. The bill requires jail sentences for people (including parents and siblings) who observe drug usage and fail to report the crime to the police. The reach of the bill is staggering.

Bill Piper is director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, and he has an excellent critique of the bill on Alternet.

Sensenbrenner, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, has introduced legislation that would essentially draft every American into the war on drugs. H.R. 1528, cynically named "Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act," would compel people to spy on their family members and neighbors, and even go undercover and wear a wire if needed. If a person resisted, he or she would face mandatory incarceration.

Here's how the "spy" section of the legislation works: If you "witness" certain drug offenses taking place or "learn" about them, you must report the offenses to law enforcement within 24 hours and provide "full assistance in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution" of the people involved. Failure to do so would be a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence, and a maximum sentence of 10 years.

But wait, there's more!

H.R. 1528 also establishes new draconian penalties for a variety of non-violent drug offenses, including:

Five years for anyone who passes a marijuana joint at a party to someone who, at some point in his or her life, has been in drug treatment;

Ten years for mothers with substance abuse problems who commit certain drug offenses at home (even if their children are not at home at the time);

Five years for any person with substance abuse problems who begs a friend in drug treatment to find them some drugs.

These sentences would put non-violent drug offenders behind bars for as long as rapists, and they include none of the drug treatment touted in the bill's name.

The bill is currently in committee, where I hope it dies.

I guess I forgot that Senator Joseph McCarthy was also from Wisconsin. There was another man who didn't worry too much about privacy and civil rights issues.


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