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Monday, Apr 21st

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Contractor at NJ explosion was levied more than $100K in safety fines for 2 other sites

Contractor at NJ explosionThe contractor working at the site of a massive explosion in New Jersey has been fined more than $100,000 by federal safety monitors for problems at two other work sites.

Records provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that Henkels & McCoy was fined $70,000 for safety violations at a work site in Bayonne and $42,000 for violations in Neptune.

The violations involved signaling and warning signs and protection of workers during excavations. The company is contesting the fines.

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D.C. Council Votes to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana

marijanaThe D.C. Council voted Tuesday in favor of a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Mayor Gray is expected to sign the bill into law. Then it will have to wait for the standard congressional review period before going into effect. Congress has rarely used its veto powers over D.C. laws.

The vote was little more than a formality. The council had already approved decriminalization by an 11-to-1 vote. But before that initial vote, the council watered down the bill by maintaining criminal penalties for smoking pot in public.

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U.S. justices extend employee whistleblower protections

Supreme CourtA divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that employees at private firms that contract with publicly traded companies are subject to whistleblower protections.

In a 6-3 vote along non-ideological lines, the court ruled that two whistleblowers were legally protected against retaliation after they raised concerns to their employer, Fidelity Investments parent FMR LLC, about how some mutual funds were being managed. Whistleblowers at public companies already are protected from employer retaliation.

The court was interpreting part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a 2002 law passed by Congress that set standards for all U.S. publicly traded company boards, management and public accounting firms.

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Thrown in jail for being poor: the booming for-profit probation industry

Thomas BarrettMany poor Americans face jail when they can’t pay steep fines for nonviolent crimes, like $1,000 for stealing a $2 beer

Thomas Barrett of Georgia sold his own blood plasma twice a week to raise money for the probation fees he owed a for-profit firm.

In January 2013, Clifford Hayes, a homeless man suffering from lupus and looking for a night off the streets, walked into the sheriff’s office in Augusta, Georgia. It was a standard visit: he needed police clearance, a requirement of many homeless shelters, to stay overnight at the Salvation Army.

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Florida woman's sentence could be tripled in stand-your-ground retrial

Marissa AlexanderA Florida woman who won a retrial after being sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a “warning shot” in the direction of her violent husband has been told that her jail term could be tripled if she is convicted again.

Marissa Alexander could be sent to prison for a minimum of 60 years if she is found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault at her second trial in Jacksonville in July, after state prosecutors confirmed they would seek for the sentences to be served consecutively.

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Powerful storm lashes eastern U.S. with snow, arctic cold

New storm hits eastern USA powerful winter storm hit the U.S. East Coast on Monday with freezing rain, snow and arctic cold, forcing cancellation of about 2,250 flights, shutting down Washington and closing schools and local governments.

The latest of a series of weather systems to pummel the winter-weary eastern United States, the storm was expected to blanket the U.S. capital with up to 9 inches of snow as it swept from the Mississippi Valley to the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states, the National Weather Service said.

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'I'm Going To Prison For Working At A Pot Shop That Was Legal In My State'

Robert Duncanobert Duncan moved from Los Angeles to Northern California in 2010 to manage marijuana growing operations for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries. Although California voters legalized medical cannabis more than 17 years ago, the plant remains illegal under federal law, and the Obama administration launched a renewed crackdown on marijuana in California in 2011.

That October, Duncan’s grow house was raided. A few months later, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner indicted him and others involved in the dispensary business on the grounds that it had grown too large. Despite California’s struggle with prison overcrowding, and despite new federal guidelines that say size should no longer be considered in prosecution decisions, Duncan, 31, was sentenced to two years in prison. He is scheduled to report to Mendota Federal Correctional Institution near Fresno, Calif., on Monday afternoon. HuffPost Live will go with him.

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