UPDATE: Congress passes criminal justice reform bill, Trump to sign

UPDATE 2 — 12/20, 2:31 p.m. EDT: Following passage in the Senate Tuesday, the House of Representatives  voted in favor of the First Step Act Thursday, sending it to President Trump for final approval.

The bill has wide-ranging bi-partisan support, including the Koch Brothers and ACLU, but faced public opposition from conservatives in Congress like Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Kennedy (R-La.).


UPDATE — 3:23 p.m. EDT: Three U.S. law enforcement associations have communicated to Senate brass they will not endorse the criminal justice reform bill in its current form, as it “creates a high-risk path for dangerous criminals with gun crime histories to early release from prison.”

Media sources have reported White House adviser Jared Kushner took the lead in negotiating a compromise between different versions of the legislation, and met with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on multiple occasions to firm up Senate support.

GOP supporters of the bill include Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Mike Lee (Utah), who predict it would receive at least 60 votes in the lame duck session.


President Trump backed a major overhaul of the nation’s federal sentencing laws Wednesday, saying at a White House ceremony he “looks forward to signing” legislation that would reduce mandatory minimums for drug offenders.

Surrounded by civic leaders and members of Congress, Trump said of the First Step Act:

“I’m thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our community safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.”

Trump followed his remarks, adding the bill would inspire “low risk” inmates to pursue vocational training, educational opportunities and faith-based programs to turn their lives around once freed from prison.

The proposed bipartisan compromise reduces the “three strikes” penalty for those with a nonviolent past and two drug-related felonies from life imprisonment to 25 years. Further, the measure would lower 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for similar offenders to 15 years.

Similarly, the bill would change standards for offenders in possession of crack and powder cocaine.  Under current federal law, offenders in possession of crack cocaine face stiffer sentences than those in possession of powder cocaine.

A final reform would enlarge exceptions under which mandatory-minimum sentences are applied to offenders with criminal pasts.

“By preparing inmates bound for release to become productive citizens, we can reduce crime and the social and economic cost of incarceration. And by ensuring that punishments fit the crimes, we can better balance the scales of justice,” Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

Although the bill easily passed the House with 360 votes, it stalled in the Senate over objections from law enforcement groups and some conservative Republican senators skeptical of broad changes to federal sentencing guidelines.

According to The Hill, GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), John Kennedy (La.) and David Purdue (Ga.), whose votes would be needed to avoid a week’s worth of Senate debate, generally oppose criminal justice reform.


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