There’s been a lot in the news about congress and tax cuts and healthcare, but there are four bills that I am watching that specifically do with criminal justice reform. In addition to the victories that we have had this year, I’ve been reading that there will be a “Legislative sprint” this upcoming week and I am hopeful that some of the bills covered here will be part of that sprint.
H.R.64 – Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2017
The Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2017 was introduced by Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) on 1/3/2017. The CRS* has summarized this bill as follows:
This bill amends the federal criminal code to require the Bureau of Prisons to release early an offender who has completed at least half of his or her prison sentence if such offender has: (1) attained age 45, (2) committed no violent offenses, and (3) received no institutional disciplinary violations.
On January 12, 2017 this bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. According to GovTrack, this bill has been introduced each session since 2003.
S.1917 – Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017
There is no official CRS summary but a summary by the Senate Judiciary Committee Indicates that this bill does the following:
-Reforms & Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons
-Increases Judicial Discretion for Sentencing of Certain Nonviolent Offenders
-Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums & Sentences for Firearm Offenses
-Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence & Certain Export Control Violations, and New Mandatory Enhancement for Trafficking of Fentanyl-Laced Heroin
-Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively
-Establishes Recidivism Reduction Programs to Facilitate Successful Reentry
-Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody & Improves Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records
-Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses
-Creates National Criminal Justice Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, which has not been done in more than 50 years.
On October 4, 2017, this bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to GovTrack, a similar bill was introduced in October 2015.
S.1933 – Smarter Sentencing Act of 2017
The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2017 was introduced by Mike Lee (R-UT) and others On October 2, 2017.
There is no official CRS summary but in a press release on his webpage, Senator Lee Indicates the following:
“Our current federal sentencing laws are out of date, they are often counterproductive, and in far too many cases they are unjust,” said Senator Lee. “The Smarter Sentencing Act is a commonsense solution that will greatly reduce the financial and, more importantly, the human cost imposed on society by the broken status quo. The SSA will give judges the flexibility and discretion they need to impose stiff sentences on the most serious drug lords and cartel bosses while enabling nonviolent offenders to return more quickly to their families and communities.”
On October 5, 2017 this bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. According to GovTrack, a similar bill was introduced in February of 2015.
S.1902 – Mens Rea Reform Act of 2017
The Mens Rea Reform Act of 2017 was introduced by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and others on October 2, 2017.
There is no official CRS summary but in a press release on his webpage, Senator Hatch Indicates the following:
…[the] Mens Rea Reform Act of 2017, would set a default intent standard for all criminal laws and regulations that lack such a standard. This legislation would ensure that courts and creative prosecutors do not take the absence of a criminal intent standard to mean that the government can obtain a conviction without any proof a guilty mind.
The bill’s title, written by its author, says “A bill to specify the state of mind required for conviction for criminal offenses that lack an expressly identified state of mind, and for other purposes.”
On October 2nd 2017, this bill was referred to the committee on the Judiciary. According to GovTrack, a similar bill was introduced in November of 2015.
*The Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the Library of Congress works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. CRS provides Congress with analysis that is authoritative, confidential, objective, and non-partisan.
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
The U.S. Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government and makes laws for the nation. Congress has two legislative bodies (houses): the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Anyone elected to either body can propose a new law. Proposals for new laws are called bills.
-A bill can be introduced in either house of Congress by a Senator or Representative who sponsors it.
-Once a bill is introduced, Representatives or Senators will meet in small groups to discuss, research or make changes to it.
-The bill is then put before that house to be voted on.
-If the bill passes one body of Congress, it is then presented to the other body to go through a similar process to be proposed, discussed and voted on.
-Once both bodies vote to accept a bill, it is presented to the President.
-The President then considers the bill. The President can approve the bill and sign it into law or not approve (veto) a bill.
-If the President chooses to veto a bill, in most cases Congress can vote to override that veto and the bill becomes a law. However, if the President pocket vetoes a bill after Congress has adjourned, the veto cannot be overridden.
I believe that all of these pieces of legislation are important and should become law. I will keep you posted on these bills as they go through the process.