Do the Right Thing, Please

In a surprising turn of events, most Republicans and Democrats in Congress along with President Trump are backing long needed Criminal Justice Reform.

After years of talk with no action, there is at least a chance now for long needed criminal justice reform. The possible changes to the system come in the form of legislation named the First Step Act. One of the big questions was whether President Trump would get on board. In the past he had spoken of the need for reform, but his actions have proven to be unpredictable.

Reform advocates were happy when the president finally weighed in recently throwing his full support behind the bill, urging approval and stating, “I’ll be waiting with a pen.” The process started in the House of Representatives earlier this year with the passage of the First Step Act (H.R. 5682) which is geared towards improving the federal prison systems and helping inmates make a successful transition into society upon release.

The bill then moved on to the Senate where several provisions where added on the reform front, including the lowering of mandatory minimum sentences in drug offenses and adjusting the “three strikes penalty” from life in prison to 25 years. The additions would also give judges more leeway in overriding mandatory minimums and expand on so-called “safety-valve” measures to help prevent unfair sentences for non-violent offenders.

The bill, however, is facing an uphill battel in the Senate with many conservatives opposed to the legislation and pressure on leadership to push any action into 2019. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has previously said the year-end calendar has many priorities and that he would need to be shown that the bill would have support from at least 60 senators (the number needed to stop a filibuster) in order to include it in with the other legislative priorities for 2018.

Enter President Trump with the encouragement of trusted family advisor and criminal justice reform proponent, Jared Kushner. The president, after being briefed on the bill’s latest contents, came out publicly in full support of the bill during a recent White House event, touting that true bipartisanship was possible.

The President’s endorsement does give the bill a fighting chance in the Senate, but the end of the year is coming quickly, and it would be easy for opposing senators to slow the bill’s movement toward a vote to a crawl and into next year. Even after a Senate vote, the revised bill will need to go back to the House for a full vote, but House leadership is confident in a quick passage since the original bill already easily passed once.

After the Thanksgiving recess, reports are that the White House, along with advocacy groups, will be lobbying Senators to get the bill through to a vote this year. I hope they succeed, and we can finally get some much-needed action taken towards criminal justice reform. It would be nice also if this was a blueprint for the Democrats and President Trump to work together on other needed items like infrastructure. Senate Republicans, we are waiting. Do the right thing.

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