President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf departed the country last Saturday for official visits to the United States of America and Belgium. The visit is President Sirleaf’s second outside Liberia since the worsening of the Ebola crisis in 2014. She attended an Extraordinary Summit of the Mano River Union in Conakry, Guinea last Sunday, February 15.Following her departure from James Spriggs Payne Airport on Saturday, President Sirleaf was scheduled to make a brief stop-over in the Emirate of Sharjah, one of the states of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to share her experience in Crisis Management at the International Government Communications Forum there.According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf travels on to Washington, D.C., where she will meet United States President Barrack Obama at the White House on Friday, February 27.President Sirleaf’s visit comes at a time of crucial cooperation between Liberia and the United States and also following President Obama’s announcement last week that the United States is moving to the next phase of its Ebola response which will be characterized by intensive efforts to reach zero Ebola case in West Africa.Due to the rapid decline in Ebola cases and the all but empty ETUs built by the Americans around the country, President Obama has withdrawn most of the four thousand strong military contingent sent to Liberia to help fight the epidemic. President Sirleaf will have the opportunity to thank President Obama and the American people for the extraordinary level of assistance to Liberia during the Ebola crises. The White House has already issued an official statement announcing that President Obama looks forward to building on a strong and historic partnership with Liberia, and discussing a range of topics with President Sirleaf, including the ongoing Ebola response, the region’s economic recovery plans, and other issues of mutual interest.The withdrawal of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, UNMIL, from Liberia in June 2016 and Liberia’s preparedness to take over full responsibility for its own security and the implications for the West African Sub-region will be a topic most likely to be discussed between Presidents Obama and Sirleaf. The United States is a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council which is the only body that has the capability to maintain or extend the UNMIL withdrawal date. While in the United States, the Liberian leader will also meet with Administration officials, Congressional leaders and other stakeholders. She will also speak at an event hosted by Democratic Senator Chris Coons and the U.S. Institute of Peace on February 26. President Sirleaf will then travel to Brussels, Belgium to participate in an Ebola Conference organized by the European Union (EU). The conference will bring together the three most affected Mano River Union countries (Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone) and will see the Liberian President perform the role of Spokesperson for the three countries. The Brussels Conference, which is not a pledging conference, seeks to enable the affected countries to share their experiences and post Ebola plans and help aid the EU and other bilateral and multilateral organizations to plan better for the post-Ebola period. From Brussels, the Liberian leader returns to the United States, where she will participate in the 20th anniversary celebration of the Beijing Platform for Action at the UN Headquarters in New York. President Sirleaf is accompanied to the U.S. by Legal Advisor, Cllr. Seward Cooper; Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh; Information Minister Lewis G. Brown; Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Piah; LBS Director General Ledgerhood Rennie; Executive Assistant Euphemia Brewer-Fasama, among others. She will also be accompanied to Brussels by Montserrado County Representative Saah Joseph; Youth Advisor, Dr. Emmanuel Dolo; Assistant Health Minister for Preventive and Curative Services, Tolbert Nyenswah, Head of the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU), Dr. Clarence Moniba and his Deputy Amos Seibo, among others. While President Sirleaf is away, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai will chair the Cabinet in consultation with Vice President, Joseph Nyumah Boakai. President Sirleaf is expected to return home on March 13.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, at a Senate Majority press availability, March 21, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)The state Senate voted 16-2 on Saturday to pass a bill overhauling Alaska’s criminal justice system.Download AudioThe bill would divert nonviolent offenders from prison toward alternative programs. It shifts the focus of bail from people’s ability to pay to the risk they present. It also creates a re-entry program in the Department of Corrections, to assist those leaving prison to help reduce recidivism. Senate Bill 91 reduces sentence ranges and expands parole.North Pole Republican Senator John Coghill says the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission laid the groundwork for the bill.“If less people are coming in to jail reoffending, that’s less crime,” Coghill said. “And that’s what our aim is here. The aim here is not necessarily cost savings, but we can’t afford to do what we’re doing right now.”“So we’re kind of bumping up against the cost and the unacceptable returns on what’s going on in Alaska.”The Department of Corrections forecasts the bill will save a lot of money.Ninety million dollars would be saved in the next six years by diverting people from prison, and potentially hundreds of millions in reduced social service costs, since people will be working instead of being in jail.Law enforcement unions and some victims’ rights advocates oppose the bill. They say it jeopardizes public safety and worsens victims’ trauma.Chugiak Republican Senator Bill Stoltze opposed the bill.“I really think, in many aspects, this bill got too big to fail,” Stoltze said. “And it could be several bills that were dealt with in different iterations.”But supporters pointed to research showing that similar measures in other states have reduced the chance that people will re-offend.Bill supporter Soldotna Republican Senator Peter Micciche says the current system makes low-level offenders better at being criminals while incarcerated, rather than being reformed.The bill would re-invest some of the savings toward social assistance programs, to help them succeed in finding work.“What we’re tried to do is provide intervention and reinvestment while they’re inside, and hopefully have these folks ready to succeed when they’re released,” Micciche said. “And this is not the end. Although it’s a paradigm shift, we’ll be monitoring the success of the changes we’ve made and make sure it delivers the results that we expect it to see delivered.”The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill Monday, putting it on track for a vote by the full House later this week.