Senators unveil bipartisan criminal justice reform package

By SEUNG MIN KIM

Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition

10/04/2017 03:10 PM EDT

A group of influential senators rolled out a sweeping bill to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system and sentencing laws, reviving a bipartisan effort that had been left for dead last year.

The new legislation, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), is aimed at easing sentences for some non-violent offenders, such as for drug crimes, while beefing up other tough-on-crime laws. For example, it gets rid of the three-strike mandatory life sentence for some repeat drug offenders, but would also allow some people with previous convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies to face enhanced penalties.

“This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system,” said Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “It is the product of much thoughtful deliberation, and we will continue to welcome input from stakeholders as we move forward.”

Grassley did not lay out a timetable for marking up the bill, a version of which sailed through his committee 15-5 during the last Congress but never made it to the floor due to objections from conservative law-and-order Republicans in the conference.

A broad coalition of senators lined up Wednesday behind the bill, including Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Senators this year have a critical ally in the White House: Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has taken an interest in reforming the nation’s criminal justice system and has met privately with senators about the issue.

At the same time, the coalition will still face opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who helped sink the bill when he served in the Senate.