Tomorrow Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) will join Republican House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on a justice reform bill that is reportedly similar to the Senate bill introduced by Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) last week. A press conference on the bill will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Capitol Hill Thursday morning.
In a statement, Reps. Goodlatte and Conyers say they,”will introduce companion legislation to the sentencing reform portion of the Senate bill unveiled last week by Senators Grassley, Durbin, Cornyn, Leahy, and others.” The sentencing reform portion of the Senate bill includes issues such as how much control judges have over sentencing (known as the “safety valve”), mandatory minimums and whether drug sentences can be applied retroactively. Whether the Goodlatte-Conyers bill will produce cost savings or reduce over incarceration is unknown.
A week after it’s release, some studying the Senate justice bill indicate it produces no cost savings and will not lower incarceration because of the bill’s tepid approach to reform.
On October 6, justice reform advocates ran ads in the district of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte urging him to move forward on justice reform. Goodlatte has been criticized by many as an obstructionist on the issue. Tim Heaphy, a former federal prosecutor in Goodlatte’s district, is heard on the ad supporting the SAFE Justice Act, a bill sponsored by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).
The legislation, H.R. 2944, currently has 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats as co-sponsors and implements “state tested reforms” that have reduced over-incarceration in states such as Texas and Georgia. It includes retroactive sentencing under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the crack/powder cocaine disparity from 1:100 to 1:18. Interestingly, in teaming with Goodlatte and not joining on as a co-sponsor to the SAFE Justice Act, Conyers would now be to the right of Republican Sensenbrenner, if the Goodlatte-Conyers companion bill is essentially a xerox of the Senate’s justice bill.
In a press release on October 8, Van Jones, called legislative activity on justice reform “historic” and put forward the idea of merging the SAFE Justice Act with the Goodlatte bill.
“Goodlatte’s new bill and the SAFE Justice Act, which was introduced earlier this year, both have good points,” said Jones, who is the co-founder of the justice reform group #cut50. “Chairman Goodlatte should consider merging the two bills. We hope that the committee process will be fair and open, so that the strongest possible legislation can emerge.”
At the weekly Wednesday meeting, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) briefed members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Senate bill introduced by Grassley last week. During the briefing, Booker was asked about cost savings and how many people the Senate legislation would impact. The Senate bill has not been scored by CBO.
Many justice reform advocates are hoping the Senate bill will be the vehicle for “something” passing. While others are pushing to use this rare opportunity to pass a bi-partisan justice bill as a chance for deeper reform.