National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, in the 2017 Annual Report to Congress, makes 50 recommendations for legislation to improve the IRS’s administration of the tax law and to strengthen taxpayer rights. Among other things, the report criticizes a law that requires the IRS to hire private debt collection agencies to deal with citizens who don’t pay their taxes. Initiated last April, the IRS spent $20 million for debt collection agencies that produced a measly $6.7 million. The IRS “implemented the program in a manner that causes excessive financial harm to taxpayers and constitutes an end-run around taxpayer rights protections that Congress has enacted,” the report states.
Vermont moves closer to legal marijuana
Just days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions relit the burners under the federal ban on marijuana, the Vermont Senate finished work on a bill to allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate their own marijuana plants, the Drug Policy Alliance reported. With Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott indicating he will sign the bill into law, the state is poised to join eight other states and the District of Columbia that have legalized adult recreational use of marijuana. Similar legalization bills are making progress in four other states: New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.
First Amendment should protect politicking at polling places
The Goldwater Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief that asks the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Minnesota law that forbids citizens from wearing “political apparel” in the vicinity of a polling station. The law, the Phoenix-based Institute said, violates the First Amendment. “While the government should prevent disorder in polling places, it shouldn’t be in the business of telling people they can’t express themselves in respectful ways,” the Institute said.
NOAA builds supercomputer to forecast weather
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it is adding a pair of Dell computing systems to the IBM and Cray computers at its data centers in Reston, Va., and Orlando, Fla., to create a weather and climate supercomputing system that will be among the world’s 30 fastest. When installed, the NOAA supercomputers will be able to process 8 quadrillion calculations per second. The world’s fastest supercomputer is the Sunway TaihuLight in China which can operate at 93 petaflops—or 93 quadrillion floating point operations per second.
If at first you don’t succeed…
In separate incidents at the Hidalgo and Pharr International Bridges on the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, border agents arrested two Mexican nationals who tried to sneak into the U.S. by claiming they were U.S. citizens. Both men, aged 40 and 31, had been previously deported back to Mexico after illegally entering the U.S., Customs and Border Protection said. One of the men presented a Texas driver’s license and a U.S. birth certificate to substantiate his claim of citizenship, but an examination determined that he had been deported back to Mexico three times, and that he had been arrested in the U.S. for committing a burglary.
Incarcerated population drops to 1.5 million
The total number of prisoners held in federal and state prisons held above the 1.5 million mark at the end of 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics said in a report. It was 21,200 fewer prisoners than were held at the end of 2015. The federal prison population decreased by 7,300 prisoners between 2015 and 2016, while the state prison population decreased by 13,900. More than half of state prisoners were incarcerated for violent offenses. In contrast, nearly half of federal prisoners had been sentenced for drug offenses.
Texas mayor caught in health care fraud
Francisco Pena, 82, a physician and former elected official who resides in Laredo, Tex., and three owners of the Merida Health Care Group which provides hospice and health care services throughout Texas, were indicted for engaging in a $150 million health care fraud and money laundering. The Department of Justice said the four indictees defrauded Medicare by submitting bills for services not provided to patients, and fraudulently kept patients on hospice services in order to increase revenue from Medicare.
Rip ‘n Read is a daily compilation of press releases found on hundreds of websites that are maintained by the federal government, think tanks, watchdog groups and national advocacy organizations. Press releases selected for this feature are, in the opinion of the editor, exceptionally newsworthy, interesting or just plain curious.
The press releases and documents linked to this report were posted on their websites on Wednesday, January 10