<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - First Read]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/first-read-dmv http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com en-us Sun, 01 Mar 2015 20:21:22 -0500 Sun, 01 Mar 2015 20:21:22 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Republican Presidential Candidates Appearing at CPAC]]> Fri, 27 Feb 2015 12:21:35 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009622016_1200x675_405469763798.jpg CPAC has its straw poll for presidential candidates Saturday. Today, the Senate is voting on final passage of a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which is set to run out of money tonight.]]> <![CDATA[Pot's Legal in D.C. -- But What Happens Now?]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 20:42:30 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20150226+DC+POT+MAP.jpg

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is now legal in D.C., but that doesn't mean the matter is closed. Congress may still move to prohibit city leaders from enforcing the new law, and if it doesn't, local law enforcement will have to navigate the waters.

In the lead-up to the 12:01 a.m. Thursday legalization, some members of Congress threatened prison time for D.C. officials over the law. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser late Tuesday asking her to reconsider moving forward with legalization. Chaffetz chairs the House Oversight Committee, which has authority over District government.

In response, D.C. leaders vowed not to back down. Bowser said her administration was "committed to upholding the will of D.C. voters. We will implement Initiative 71 in a thoughtful, responsible way."

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said the pot measure "is the law... nothing more and nothing less."

Nonetheless, city officials are anxious over the law, hoping that there will not be any sort of embarrassing or public incident linked to marijuana use, which would set the wrong tone. And local law enforcement officers will have to determine how to best enforce the new regulations, which allow for some discretion.

How Will D.C. Police Enforce the Law?

D.C. police officers are now carrying small, double-sided information cards spelling out what the law does and does not cover.

The new law is not sweeping: It permits possession of up to two ounces, sharing up to one ounce, and allows for limited home cultivation, and only for those age 21 and older. The sale of marijuana remains illegal, as does any sort of public consumption.

And the law does not pertain to federally owned land in the District, where any marijuana possession or use remains illegal. The question for D.C. officers will be how to enforce the law with discretion and fairness. City officials won't publicly acknowledge it, but leaders are cautioning all law enforcement not to be overzealous.

Lanier said officers will be alert to people under any influence, but that officers can use discretion. If an officer sees people smoking on the street, the officer can warn them to go inside; they are not required to make an arrest.

Public housing police have a trickier situation, though, because D.C.'s public housing is considered federal housing.

D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) said Monday that she was concerned that residents of public housing, who don't have anywhere else to go, could be evicted due to misunderstandings of the new law.

The law is murkier when it comes to rented apartments, where the law leaves discretion up to landlords. Homeowners associations can also vote to prohibit the use of marijuana in their communities.

Several D.C. universities -- including American, Catholic, Georgetown, George Washington and Howard -- will not alter their existing drug policies. Officials from each school said Thursday that the use of marijuana on campus is still strictly prohibited, and students who possess or use the drug will still face disciplinary sanctions.

Driving while impaired by any substance remains illegal. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said that officers will not have to prove that a driver is impaired by marijuana specifically, just that the driver is impaired.

What Can Congress Do Now -- And Will It Do Anything?

The political concerns are different than the practical ones. A handful of U.S. representatives, some very conservative, are outspokenly against legalization, opposing it more aggressively than they did with medical marijuana or mere decriminalization. For these lawmakers, legalization may be their tipping point.

Going forward, it's possible that -- within 48 hours of legalization -- Congress will pass a Department of Homeland Security funding bill with a rider penned by conservatives, saying D.C. officials cannot enforce the legalization law.

While it could happen, it's not clear that it will.

No U.S. senators are actively opposing the D.C. law, and while Senate Republicans are fighting with House Republicans over major national issues, it's unclear whether they will tackle marijuana.

Natalie Lylo contributed to this report.

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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Be Afraid, Be Very...]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 08:47:29 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/department+of+homeland+security+sign.jpg

Homeland security is much in the news again this week. On the one hand, U.S. Department of Homeland Security director Jeh Johnson was all over network television amplifying the latest terrorism threats that encouraged attacks on American shopping malls, especially the Mall of America in Minnesota.

"I'm not telling people to not go to the mall," Johnson explained Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press. "I think that there needs to be an awareness. ...I'm saying that the public needs to be particularly vigilant."


That gives new meaning to the old phrase "shop till you drop." The latest security theater was playing out, with its now-standard appeal to Americans to go about your regular life but... be alert and afraid. And it played out while the homeland security bureaucracy itself was in the news for a couple of other reasons.

First, the leaders of the Republican Congress were trying to retreat from their threat to shut down funding for the federal Department of Homeland Security unless President Barack Obama caved on his executive order protecting some undocumented immigrants. Funding for the agency expires Thursday.

The fight isn't just a federal budget issue in Washington; nearly $2 billion in federal grants of all sorts to local and state governments is funneled through the agency. The department itself has more than 190 locations across America.

But whatever the terror threat may be, new reports and surveys suggest that the most apparent and real enemy may be the federal security department itself. It is a massive, unwieldy cauldron of competing agencies and soured employees.

Here's how Washington Post reporter Jerry Markon last week summarized the department's multiple morale issues even as the agency embarks on more efforts to fix itself:

"Many DHS employees have said in the annual government ‘viewpoint' survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit. Others have described in interviews how a stifling bureaucracy and relentless congressional criticism makes DHS an exhausting, even infuriating, place to work."

To those Americans being encouraged to go about our normal lives, there's only hope that this tortured bureaucracy somehow will do good. The Notebook previously has noted that the usual next step after creating a massive bureaucracy is calling for it to be broken apart. Stand by. But please, go about your normal business. The bureaucracy is.

■ Snow and ice. The weekend blast of bitter cold, snow and ice was nothing compared to the Twitter storm of biting comments on how Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration did or didn't respond adequately. If you're inclined to think her administration did well enough, there's a Twitter snap for that. If your streets were missed, plenty of comments on that, too.

The fact is, weather response is almost a no-win game. Call a snow emergency early to give people time to remove their cars from emergency routes, people complain you're too early — it's not even snowing. Wait too late, and people can't move their cars. It's the same with school closings: You're damned if you do or don't.

The bottom line is any city must have a reasonable game plan, as well as the equipment and employees to carry out the plan. Back in the late 1990s, the District particularly was bereft of equipment, training and staff until then-Mayor Tony Williams and public works director Leslie Hotaling made commitments to correct all that. "Bring it on!" Hotaling once confidently shouted as the mayor displayed new snow-plowing equipment.

When Hotaling retired from government service in January 2004, the mayor noted the diminutive director's hard work and sense of humor in a difficult job. "She has led the department to a new level of professionalism and performance," he said. "She is, without a doubt, one of the finest public works administrators in the nation. Although small in stature, she has proven herself to be a heavyweight in a world dominated by heavy equipment and heavyset males."

Significantly, current public works director William Howland Jr. has been in the same job ever since, through Williams, Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray and now Bowser. That's staying power. Whatever shortfalls, he must be doing something right in that high-profile post.

■ A pot postscript. As our deadline approached, Mayor Muriel Bowser was preparing to meet with D.C. Council members to discuss how the city will carry out the marijuana legalization law that the city says goes into effect at midnight Thursday. There were still some expectations that Congress might try again to block the law.

If it becomes law, the simple thing to know is that pot possession (up to two ounces) will be legal for private consumption in private spaces for those over 21. But it will still be illegal on any federal property, and that includes Rock Creek Park, traffic circles like Dupont and any of the many federal buildings in town. As D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told the WAMU Politics Hour last Friday -- be cautious out there. The city is on new terrain.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

<![CDATA[Pot Becomes Legal in D.C. Thursday at Midnight ]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:39:21 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_208318672.jpg

A law to legalize marijuana in the District will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, unless Congress steps in at the last minute.

As a result, D.C. police officers will begin carrying business card-sized summaries of the new rules, which were publicly explained Tuesday and will be part of a public education campaign.

The law -- which was approved by voters last fall -- will permit possession of small amounts of marijuana by those ages 21 or older, with consumption allowed only in private homes and space. The card includes the following points:

  • Those ages 21 or older can possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six cannabis plants at home (with no more than three mature), or give away up to one ounce of marijuana to someone else (who also must be at least 21 years old).
  • Those younger than 21 cannot possess any amount of marijuana. Any such marijuana can be seized by an officer.
  • You can be arrested if you smoke or consume marijuana in public, have more than 2 ounces, or sell any amount of marijuana.
  • Those who drive while impaired or under the influence of marijuana will be prosecuted.
  • Under federal law, federal law enforcement officers may arrest anyone in the District for possession of any amount of marijuana, specifically on any federal property.

The last point is an important one.

Because the District includes both D.C. land and federal land, it's important to note that the new law is only a local one. The new law doesn't apply to possession on federal parkland, such as the National Mall, Rock Creek Park and traffic circles patrolled by U.S. Park Police.

And even on non-federal land, it will remain illegal to smoke or consume pot while in a public space.

The card's back side lists health risks of using marijuana, noting, "You shouldn't use marijuana just because local laws have changed."

The cards also note that if marijuana is seized because a person doesn't provide proof of age, that person can pick up his or her pot from the police station within three weeks if they provide ID.

An information sheet distributed by Mayor Muriel Bowser's office Tuesday morning is also spelling out exactly what would and wouldn't be legal. The new law legalizes possession and consumption of marijuana in a user's home, but does not legalize the sale of marijuana. No one would be permitted to smoke or consume pot anywhere in public.

There is still a great deal of confusion over how the District will deal with the new law.

"There are so many unanswered questions around it," said Council member Jack Evans on Monday. "If you're going to grow [marijuana], how do you get the seeds, because that's illegal."

Bowser held a meeting Tuesday with Council members to lay out how she's advising the public on the law before Thursday. But local leaders are still waiting to see whether Congress will move to block it.

Last November, D.C. voters approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession of pot for recreational use. But the following month, Congress passed a federal spending bill that also sought to halt legalization, with a provision forbidding the city from spending federal or local funds to "enact" the law.

Republican leaders in the House insist that D.C. is barred from spending any money to enact the pot law. But the District says Congress acted too late to stop the legalization bill itself from going into effect.

It's unclear how the standoff will end.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Council attempted to craft legislation to regulate and tax marijuana, similar to what's done with the sale of alcohol. However, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine cautioned the Council to back away from those plans because due to Congress's restriction.

However, the District is still permitted to issue restrictions on marijuana. Bowser is expected to offer new legislation, possibly by next week, that would ban private clubs that would charge fees for attendees to smoke marijuana.

Medical marijuana is already legal in the District, and possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized last year after Congress did not step in to block that law. Decriminalization made possession a citable offense similar to a parking ticket. However, since then, federal officers have arrested and charged about 30 people on federal land.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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<![CDATA[DHS Funding Showdown: What Happens Next]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 13:57:12 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-02-24_1449.jpg A substantial block of House Republicans say Obama's executive action on immigration is a constitutional crisis, and they need to do something about it -- even if it means a temporary shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. But that could be a big political risk. Carrie Dann of NBC News has more.]]> <![CDATA[Giuliani in Hot Water Over Obama Comments]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:42:33 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009546358_1200x675_401967171924.jpg MSNBC's Luke Russert gives an update on political battles over the Department of Homeland Security, immigration, and Rudy Giuliani's criticism of President Obama.]]> <![CDATA[Poll: Majority Favors Minimum Wage Raise]]> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 17:29:08 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009533600_1200x675_401523267758.jpg Six in 10 Americans favor raising the minimum wage, according to a new Associated Press-GkK poll. The poll results come after President Obama included the issue in the State of the Union, but the poll also found that people disapprove of Obama's work for the middle class. Mark Murray, NBC's senior political editor, has more.]]> <![CDATA[Jeb Bush: "I Am My Own Man"]]> Wed, 18 Feb 2015 14:02:21 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009518886_1200x675_400960579832.jpg NBC Senior Political Editor Mark Murray discusses Jeb Bush and his muscular foregin policy approach. Bush intends to highlight the differences between his policies and those of his brother and father, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. ]]> <![CDATA[Hogan's Heroes: Md. Bill Would End Income Tax on Vets' Pensions]]> Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:58:25 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/American+flag5.jpg

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan unveiled a bill Thursday that would eliminate state income tax for veterans receiving military pensions.

The bill would be phased in over four years, providing 25 percent relief in the first year and increasing to 100 percent, according to a press release from the governor's office.

Hogan says the Military Retirement Income Tax Exemption would cover pension income starting Jan. 1, 2015, and would benefit more than 50,000 veterans living in the state. Veterans in Maryland earn an average of $28,666 in military pensions. Currently, all but $5,000 of that income is subject to personal income tax.

"Making our state as welcoming and friendly as possible to military retirees is not only common sense but it's simply the right thing to do," Hogan said in the release.

The bill is a part of a series of tax relief measures Hogan outlined in his State of the State address.

The Republican governor also plans to support measures to cut to personal property taxes for small businesses and a repeal of the state's rain and gas taxes.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: The Dizzying Effects of Pot]]> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 07:46:17 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/marijuana+generic.jpg

We imagined we were in some kind of drug dream Monday at the D.C. Council.

Three council committees were set to hold a hearing on how to regulate and tax marijuana once it becomes legal in the District. Advocates and some opponents filled the chamber.

Well, they held the hearing — starting an hour late. But it wasn’t officially called a hearing. That’s because new D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, in his biggest public action yet, opined that such a hearing likely would be unlawful, violating a congressional mandate. So the council members met and heard witnesses — they just called it a more informal “roundtable.”

Despite the artful dodge, the city does seem to be headed to a showdown with Congress over marijuana law.

City leaders say Congress acted too late when it moved in December to bar the city from “enacting” the legal marijuana law because voters already had “enacted” the measure by passing it in November.

Chairman Phil Mendelson sent the measure to the Hill for the mandated congressional review period. If it survives the 30 days, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana would be legal in the District, but you still could not sell or buy it. The law would allow you to grow your own in limited quantities.

Republican leaders on the Hill aren’t amused — or interested — in the city’s interpretation and say they stopped the law dead in its tracks last year.

House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told The New York Times this past weekend, “We passed a bill, it was signed into law, and the congressional intent was clear.”

Council Chairman Mendelson instead envisions a dicey scenario in the coming weeks. The 30-day review period is half over by the council’s count. If Congress doesn’t pass something new to block the bill, it’ll become law late this month but the city won’t be allowed to spend any new money to enforce it, regulate it or tax it.

“The approach that Congress took … creates a real challenge,” Mendelson said.

Will the Republican Congress end this dispute? It simply could pass unambiguous legislation — attached to most any relevant bill or as a stand-alone — declaring that the city may not move forward in any way with its pot law. But Congress says it has done what it needs to do.

Will the city leaders go forward, risking contempt-of-Congress citations or even legal charges?

Advocates like at-large Council member David Grosso say the city should even consider giving up home rule to force the larger issue of interference. “People are not there yet,” he told us, but he said they should discuss it.

■ No united front? Some voting rights and statehood advocates were disappointed with the way the city’s new elected attorney general handled the marijuana hearings. They wanted to present a “united front.” Well, folks voted for an independent elected attorney general, and it looks like they got one.

■ Heads up! Even if the city succeeds in legalizing marijuana possession in the District, it comes with a big caveat. Marijuana possession would still be illegal on any property controlled by the federal government. That includes the Capitol itself, federal office buildings, parkways and traffic circles controlled by the National Park Service and, of course, the National Mall and monuments.

■ More meddling? Marijuana isn’t the only local law getting national attention. The Washington Post reported last week that more than a dozen prominent Catholic and conservative groups want

Congress to overturn two other laws. One would bar employers from taking action against an employee because of birth control decisions. The second removes an exemption given to “religious educational institutions” from the city’s nondiscrimination law.

“Both laws violate the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment and other federal law,” the letter reads. Among others, it was signed by the Family Research Council, Heritage Action for America, the Archdiocese of Washington and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The laws are just beginning to make their way through that 30-day congressional review process.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

<![CDATA[Obama Proposes Force Against ISIS]]> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 13:58:56 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-02-11_1357.jpg NBC political writer Carrie Dann discusses President Obama’s political strategy and recent legislation for military force against ISIS. The legislation is facing opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner wants action on Department of Homeland Security Funding Bill.]]> <![CDATA[Mayor Bowser Promises to Tackle Unemployment in D.C.]]> Tue, 10 Feb 2015 20:46:59 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/0116-bowser.jpg D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is promising to attack the city's harsh unemployment problem. News4's Tom Sherwood explains how she plans to do it.]]> <![CDATA[DC Mayor: Congress Too Late to Stop Pot Law]]> Tue, 10 Feb 2015 19:11:57 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/461046870.jpg

D.C. will go ahead with its move to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the next few weeks, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday.

She said she agrees with the D.C. Council that Congress acted too late last year to stop the city law that was overwhelmingly approved by D.C. voters.

“It's my view that the ballot initiative changed the law,” she said.

“We'll work with the chief of police to make sure we have very clear guidance to our police officers," she added.

House Republicans say Congress's vote barred any further spending on the marijuana law.

It's not clear what action, if any, Congress intends to take against the city if it goes ahead with its plan.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Va. Legislature OKs Marijuana Oils to Treat Epilepsy]]> Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:53:39 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Medical+Marijuana+is+Reducing+Jennifers+Seizures+sign.jpg

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to allow use of two derivatives of the marijuana plant for treating severe epilepsy.

It's the first effective medical marijuana legislation to win approval in Virginia, according to its House sponsor, Del. Dave Albo.

Albo's measure, passed by the House 98-0 Tuesday, allows possession of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil with written certification by a doctor that it is needed for treatment of intractable epilepsy.

Lawmakers were moved by emotional testimony from parents of children with epilepsy who have suffered debilitating side effects from taking legal drugs.

A similar bill was approved by the state Senate last week 37-1.

Albo says medical marijuana for treatment of cancer and glaucoma is technically legal in Virginia, but federal law has prevented that law from being implemented.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington.com]]>
<![CDATA[Obama, Merkel to Discuss Ukraine-Russia Relations]]> Mon, 09 Feb 2015 17:18:05 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009417960_1200x675_396284483650.jpg President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are meeting Monday to discuss ISIS, the state of Ukraine/Russia relations and more. Carrie Dann, a political writer for NBC News, dicusses the agenda of this meeting and the current relationship of the two leaders.]]> <![CDATA[Prosecutors Want 18 Months for Maureen McDonnell]]> Sat, 07 Feb 2015 07:59:40 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP720589492415.jpg

According to court documents obtained Friday by News4, prosecutors recommended former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell spend at least 18 months in prison.

Her husband, former Va. Governor Bob McDonnell, had been sentenced to two years in prison, but will remain free during his appeals process. Court document say based on the decreased sentence her husband received, a similar decrease was applied in turn to Maureen McDonnell.

"Because Mrs. McDonnell was a full participant in a bribery scheme that sold the Governor’s office in exchange for luxury goods and sweetheart loans, many of which she solicited personally, and because she repeatedly attempted to thwart the investigation through false representations, it would be unjust for her not to serve a period of incarceration for her crimes," documents said.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were found guilty last year of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans from wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his products.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Bowser Administration Backs Off Request to Lift Restrictions on Housing Homeless]]> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 20:50:12 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/0116-bowser.jpg

After asking a judge to lift the court imposed restrictions that prevent the district from housing homeless families at rec centers and other semiprivate rooms, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration is backing off.

Earlier Friday, Bowser and her deputy mayor for Health and Human Services defended the move requesting that a judge lift the restrictions and allow the city to house homeless families in semiprivate dorms at D.C. General.

During her mayoral campaign, Bowser accused the former Mayor Vincent Gray's administration of being inhumane when they housed families in rec centers.

The Bowser administration currently has more than 1,000 children and their families living in shelters, many of them hotel rooms. It would not rule out renting more hotel rooms in Maryland if necessary.

.D.C is currently leasing 500 hotel rooms in the city.

<![CDATA[National Security Advisor to Speak on Obama's Strategy]]> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 13:03:20 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009395162_1200x675_395204163936.jpg National Security Adviser Susan Rice will speak on the Obama administration's national security strategy Friday afternoon. Mark Murray, NBC's senior political editor, shares what to expect.]]> <![CDATA[Republicans Propose Alternative to ACA]]> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 13:07:18 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009382290_1200x675_394492483895.jpg NBC's Mark Murray discusses the politics surrounding an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and Jeb Bush's possible 2016 run.]]>