Here’s what the Senate left out of that big criminal justice bill

· December 19, 2018  
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Tuesday night, the Senate passed the long-deliberated “First Step Act” by a vote of 87-12. In case you missed the drama over the last few days, a handful of Republican senators bucked the popular D.C. consensus on the bill and voiced their concerns about the language.

Some of them even dared to try to amend it. Here are just a few examples of what changes didn’t make it into the final product and which ones actually did.

The amendments that got the most attention were introduced late last week by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and John Kennedy, R-La. In short, they sought to lengthen the list of prisoners ineligible for the bill’s early release credits to include more sex offenders and violent criminals, to require the government to notify victims of a crime before prisoners are released, and to require the Bureau of Prisons to track the re-arrest rates of those who are released early.

The proposals earned the support of multiple law-enforcement groups but were condemned as “poison pills” by a coalition of organizations behind the bill.

All three failed Tuesday night. None even got as many as 40 votes.

“While the bill has marginally improved from earlier versions, I’m disappointed my amendments to exclude child molesters from early release and to protect victims’ rights were not adopted,” read a Tuesday statement from Cotton. “I also remain concerned that reducing sentences for drug traffickers and violent felons is a threat to public safety.”

However, there were several other amendments offered to the final draft that never got a floor vote because of procedural hurdles:

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., introduced a few amendments. One would have imposed stiffer penalties for cop-killers, another would have imposed harsher sentences for stalking or cyberstalking children, and another would have ensured “that crime victims and groups that support them receive a steady stream of funds from the Crime Victims Fund each year.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who ultimately voted against the bill, introduced an amendment to ban felons who assault police officers, violent bank robbers, and carjackers from getting early release credits, as well as language to strike the bill’s reduced sentences for repeat fentanyl traffickers.

Sasse also introduced a measure to address vague language in the bill about prisoners’ “productive activities.” The full text of Sasse’s amendments can be found here.

Outgoing Sen. Hatch introduced an amendment to reform and clarify mens rea — knowledge of wrongdoing and criminal intent — requirements for federal and regulatory crimes. Hatch has long advocated this kind of reform.

What actually made it in? An amendment by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and James Lankford, R-Okla., to increase the number of offenses ineligible for the bill’s time credit program and to allow faith-based groups to facilitate anti-recidivism programs. It was passed by a voice vote.

But while the Cruz-Lankford amendment increased the number of offenses for which prisoners wouldn’t be able to earn time credits, it was not as comprehensive as the similar one put forward by Cotton and Kennedy.

For example, the accepted language adds exceptions for a few violent crime categories that are extremely rare, such as threatening to kill a president or destroying aircraft facilities, while leaving certain categories of bank robbers eligible for early release credits.

A full list of the amendments to the bill along with their text can be found in the Congressional Record.


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Author: Nate Madden

Nate Madden is CRTV’s congressional correspondent. Follow him @NateMaddenCRTV or send tips to [email protected].