May 22, 2018

The House voted Tuesday 258-159 to roll back rules for midsize and regional banks that were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to prevent a repeat of that catastrophe.

The bill, already passed by the Senate, allows banks with up to $250 billion in assets to avoid some supervision from the Federal Reserve and skip stress tests. Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, banks with at least $50 billion in assets had to abide by tougher financial rules. Republican lawmakers say easing the regulations will make it easier for small banks and credit unions to lend more money to people, but some Democrats have warned this bill assists larger banks, too, noting that several of those banks failed catastrophically during the financial crisis.

The bill does not affect the biggest banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo. President Trump could sign the bill as early as this week. Catherine Garcia

August 31, 2016

A California bill that requires a prison sentence for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious person is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) desk, after the California Assembly approved it on Monday by a vote of 66-0.

Under the state's current law, a prison sentence is imposed when physical force is used during the rape, which is often not the case when a victim is intoxicated or unconscious. "Sexually assaulting an unconscious person or intoxicated victim is a terrible crime and our laws need to reflect that," said Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D), an author of the bill. "Letting felons convicted of such crimes get off with probation discourages other survivors from coming forward and sends the message that raping incapacitated victims is no big deal."

The vote comes after a former Stanford student, Brock Turner, was sentenced in June to six months in jail and three years probation after being convicted of three felony counts of sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious woman outside a party. Prosecutors were asking for a sentence of six years in prison. There was widespread condemnation of the judge in the case, Aaron Persky, and a campaign to recall him has more than one million signatures, NPR reports. Turner is set to be released on Friday, several months early, due to good behavior. Catherine Garcia

May 26, 2016

In response to outrage over the brutal gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in April, Indonesian President Joko Widodo approved on Wednesday new punishments for sex offenders found guilty of abusing children.

Effective immediately, the maximum penalty is now death and chemical castration, and after being released from prison, convicted pedophiles could be ordered to wear electronic monitoring devices, Agence France-Presse reports. "This regulation is intended to overcome the crisis caused by sexual violence against children," Widodo said. "Sexual crimes against children are extraordinary crimes, because they threaten the lives of children."

Under previous laws, the maximum sentence for rape, including of a minor, was 14 years in jail. In the case of the 14-year-old girl raped and murdered in April, seven teens, all either 16 or 17 years old, have been arrested. The girl was followed by a drunken mob while she walked home from school on the island of Sumatra; three days later, her naked body was found tied up in a wooded area. Catherine Garcia

May 4, 2016

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill on Wednesday that raises the state's smoking age to 21, from 18.

"The governor's signature on Tobacco 21 is a signal that California presents a united front against Big Tobacco," state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D) said in a statement. "Together, we stand to disrupt the chain of adolescent addiction." Brown also signed a bill that restricts the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces. California is now the second U.S. state to raise the smoking age to 21, after Hawaii. Active military members are exempt from the law.

The bills were backed by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Society, and will become effective on June 9. The National Survey on Drug Use and and Health reports that 90 percent of tobacco users start smoking before the age of 21 and 80 percent try it before 18, and a 2015 Institute of Medicine study estimates that by making 21 the legal age to buy tobacco, there will be 200,000 fewer early deaths for people born between 2000 and 2019. Before the bills were signed, the tobacco industry threatened to seek a referendum vote to overturn them, the Los Angeles Times reports. Catherine Garcia

March 10, 2016

On Thursday, California's state Senate approved a bill that will raise the legal purchase age for cigarettes from 18 to 21.

If Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs the age increase, California will become the second state with a smoking age of 21, following Hawaii, the Sacramento Bee reports. The bill, which includes an exemption for active military members, passed with a 26-10 vote. Only one Democrat voted against the measure, Sen. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton, who said it "didn't make sense" to cause "so many changes to retail markets."

The bill's author, Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa), said the success of the tobacco industry "depends on their ability to market and sell their poison to our kids. It is time that we take a stand." Catherine Garcia

April 3, 2015

France passed a bill on Friday that bans modeling agents and fashion houses from using models who are excessively thin, or face possible fines and even jail time, Reuters reports. 

The move is part of President Francois Hollande's campaign against anorexia; the legislation also made condoning anorexia illegal, and requires any re-touching of photographs to include a message stating that fact. The legislation does not give a specific marker as to what will constitute "too skinny," rather saying that, "the activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor."

Health experts estimate that some 30,000 to 40,000 people in France suffer from anorexia, many of them teenagers. Sarah Eberspacher

March 26, 2015

Despite pressure from opponents, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a "religious freedom" bill into law on Thursday during a private ceremony not open to the press.

Senate Bill 101 prohibits state or local governments from burdening a person's ability to exercise their religion, and takes effect July 1, The Indianapolis Star reports. While it does not mention sexual orientation, critics of the bill are afraid it could lead to people being able to deny services to gays and lesbians on religious grounds. Opponents say the timing of the bill is also suspicious, as it comes after last year's unsuccessful attempt to get a same-sex marriage ban added to Indiana's constitution.

Pence, who was flanked by Franciscan monks and nuns, Orthodox Jews, and evangelical Christians as he signed the bill, said that it is "not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it." Several convention organizers and business executives have said they will no longer come to Indiana, and Pence said he is open to speaking with those concerned about the measure. Catherine Garcia

February 2, 2015

A California state senator worried about the number of teenagers using tobacco wants to raise the legal minimum age for smoking in the Golden State from 18 to 21.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), an optometrist, introduced the legislation on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age," he said in a statement. "We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while Big Tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them."

The bill is supported by the California Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association. Kimberly Amazeen, vice president of the American Lung Association in California, told the Times that smoking contributes to the deaths of more than 40,000 people in the state annually, and 21,300 minors start smoking every year.

One person against the proposal is Robert Best, western regional representative for the smokers' rights group The Smoker's Club. He believes instead of changing the rules on smoking, lawmakers should actually focus on drinking — and lower the legal age to 18. "When you are 18 you are an adult and you get to do what you want," he said. Catherine Garcia

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