Senate set to vote on criminal justice reform Tuesday

Allen Cone
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, is pushing three amendments to legislation to reform criminal justice. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, is pushing three amendments to legislation to reform criminal justice. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on criminal justice reform Tuesday after overwhelmingly ending debate on the bill Monday.

The Senate voted 82-12 to move forward legislation that merges a House-passed prison reform bill with changes to sentencing laws.


President Donald Trump has endorsed the bill but it was opposed by 12 Republicans on Monday. The legislation needs 60 votes to be approved and move to the House.

"There are a number of members with outstanding concerns that they feel are still unresolved," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday in a report by The Hill. The Senate will be considering amendments before we vote on final passage later this week."

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Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana are pushing for three amendments.

The changes would bar more offenders from participating in an earned-time credit program, would require the Bureau of Prisons to notify victims when a prisoner is released early and would require authorities to track arrests of ex-convicts after they're released from prison early.

Approximately 10 offenses would be added to a list that excludes someone from being eligible for the bill's earned-time credits -- used to shorten sentences.

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"A number of serious felonies, including violent crimes, are still eligible for early release in the version of the bill the Senate will vote on in a matter of days," Cotton wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the National Review. "In short, the First Step Act flunks their basic test to protect public safety."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., warned the amendments are "poison pills" meant to undercut the legislation.

"The amendments that he will propose tomorrow, the senator from Arkansas, have been opposed by groups across the board, left and right, conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat, they all oppose his amendments. ... If he goes with the amendments we've seen, we're going to have to do our best to oppose him," Durbin, who helped craft the deal with two Republicans, Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah, said to Politico.

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Democrats noted the changes would complicate the process to get the bill through the House and divide the coalition of lawmakers and interest groups in favor of the bill.

"They're designed to kill it so I'm a no vote on all three," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. "I can't see how they could possibly go through."

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who was elected in a Republican-dominate state earlier this year, said he hasn't decided on whether he will approve the bill with the amendments included.

"There may be a couple I could live with but I think they're all bad bills," Jones said.

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