Advocates push for floor vote on criminal justice reform

Advocates are making a final push for a vote on the Senate’s criminal justice reform bill in the last weeks before lawmakers break for the holidays.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is working with the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and an interfaith criminal justice coalition organized by the United Methodist General Church of Board and Society to lobby both Democrats and Republicans into not only co-sponsoring the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 but also bringing it to the Senate floor for a vote.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sakira Cook, the group’s policy counsel, said 55 people from 22 states met with senators this week who voted against the bill in committee to try and change their minds. Those lawmakers included Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchA health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose A health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose Trump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer MORE (R-Utah) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick MORE (R-La.).

“We feel that if we put a human face to an issue we’re talking about across the country that hearts and minds start to turn in the direction of reform and transformative change,” she said.

The Leadership Conference also launched radio advertisements this week in three states — Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi — that ask voters to call their senators and pressure them to support the legislation.

“The United States has more people locked up in prison than any nation on Earth, and too many of them are people of color,” the Tennessee ad says. “Congress is considering a law to deal with this problem and our senators, Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Overnight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Trump's health care focus puts GOP on edge MORE, can make the difference.”

Cook said the Senate bill has enough bipartisan support to get to the floor for a vote, it’s just a matter of when.

“It’ll most likely get a vote early next year at this point,” she said.

Last month, President Obama announced new steps to help former prisoners reenter society as part of his push to overhaul the criminal justice system, including a rule change that asks federal job applicants about their criminal history later in the hiring process and additional grant funding to assist re-entry programs.

In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynWillie Nelson on supporting O'Rourke: 'Anything he wants to do, I'm with Beto' Willie Nelson on supporting O'Rourke: 'Anything he wants to do, I'm with Beto' Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner MORE (R-Texas) said he appreciates the president’s support on legislation that’s been years in the making.

“I don't agree with the president on a lot of things, perhaps most things, but I'm glad to know he is making this issue a priority,” he said. “And I really think it's one of those rare, magical moments where you see things coming together on a bipartisan basis across the political spectrum where we can actually make some real progress that will benefit the American people and make our criminal justice system fair and more effective.”

While the Senate Judiciary Committee member said he’s optimistic that lawmakers have found an area where they can work with the president and move this legislation forward, he gave no indication of when the bill might be voted on.

“All I would ask is that the president roll up his sleeves and work with us,” he said.