Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform Bill

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Posted: Dec 19, 2018 8:20 AM
Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform Bill

The Senate passed the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill Tuesday evening by a vote of 87-12, giving a big win to President Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who lobbied for its passage for months.  

The bill will now head to the House to be cleared before it will go to the president's desk to be signed.

“America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes. Congratulations to the Senate on the bi-partisan passing of a historic Criminal Justice Reform Bill,” Trump tweeted. “This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!”

The legislation would give federal judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also would reduce life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions, or "three strikes," to 25 years. Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.

The changes were aimed at addressing concerns that the nation's war on drugs has exploded the prison population without helping people prepare for their return to society. (FoxNews.com)

"The First Step Act takes lessons from history and from states -- our laboratories of democracy -- to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor for a vote. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also tweeted his excitement about the bill's passage. 

"This was years in the making. Thousands will obtain greater justice and new pathways to liberation as a result of this bill. This is just one step. This is just the beginning. The work must continue. Onward!"

Not all Republicans were pleased with the bill, however. 

For a group of conservative senators, Trump’s backing wasn’t enough to quell their opposition to the bill. In the end, 12 GOP senators voted against the bill: John Barrasso (Wyo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), John Kennedy (La.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jim Risch(Idaho), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.). 

Senators on Tuesday also voted down several floated changes from Cotton and Kennedy, who were the bills biggest opponents in the Senate.

Cotton argued that his amendments were in line with the intent of the bill and would “fix some of the worst part of the bill.” But, he added, he still believed the legislation is “deeply unwise” and would result in the “early release from prison thousands of serious, repeat and potentially violent felons over the next few months.”

“There are very modest amendments. The are consistent with the rhetoric of the bill’s sponsors. I know that some of the sponsors have said this is a poison pill. I frankly don’t see why. It is consistent with their own rhetoric,” Cotton said. (The Hill)

The legislation only affects those in federal prison, which is less than 10 percent of the prison population in the U.S., according to FoxNews.com