National Briefs: Obama orders overtime shift

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has signed a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Labor to devise new overtime rules to make more workers eligible for time-and-a-half pay.

The memorandum is one of the most far-reaching executive actions by the president this year. New rules would likely not take effect until 2015.

Advocates of new overtime rules say millions of workers could benefit. Critics say it could overburden small businesses and other companies and actually cost jobs.

Obama has focused this year on increasing worker pay. He's calling on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

Senate clears flood bill

WASHINGTON -- Less than two years after passing major legislation aimed at overhauling the government's much-criticized flood insurance program, Congress on Thursday sent President Barack Obama a bill to scale back many of the resulting big flood insurance premium increases faced by hundreds of thousands of homeowners. The measure also would allow below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

The measure breezed through the Senate and on to Mr. Obama's desk by a 72-22 vote. The House passed the measure last week.

The legislation significantly rewrites a major overhaul of the flood insurance program that passed almost unanimously in 2012. Its implementation has stirred anxiety among many homeowners along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in flood plains, many of whom are threatened with unaffordable rate increases.

Keystone XL hearing

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's former national security adviser said Thursday that Mr. Obama should approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a message that "international bullies" can't use energy security as a weapon.

Retired Gen. James Jones told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Canada-to-Texas pipeline is a litmus test of whether the U.S. is serious about national and global energy security. Approval of the pipeline would help ensure that North America becomes a global energy hub and a reliable energy source to the U.S. and its allies, Mr. Jones said. Rejecting the pipeline would "make Mr. Putin's day and strengthen his hand."

Sentencing shifts backed

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday endorsed a proposal that would result in shorter prison sentences for many nonviolent drug traffickers, saying the change would rein in runaway federal prison costs and create a fairer criminal justice system.

Mr. Holder's backing for a U.S. Sentencing Commission proposal to lower the guideline penalties is part of a broader Justice Department effort to lessen punishment for nonviolent drug dealers. He has been pressing to ease long mandatory sentences.

Also in the nation ...

The military announced Thursday that it had repatriated an Algerian detainee, Ahmed Bin Saleh Bel Bacha, who had been held without trial for 12 years at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. ... Failings exposed last spring at the Minot nuclear missile base in North Dakota were worse than originally reported, according to Air Force documents obtained by The Associated Press.



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