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.

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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 HatchThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Hatch walks back remarks that he didn't 'care' if Trump broke the law MORE (R-Utah) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLouisiana congressman to challenge Dem Gov Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor next year Dems face tough road ahead in Deep South 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 CorkerThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Corker dodges on Trump primary question MORE and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Taxpayers Union — Incoming Dem chairman vows hearings on ObamaCare lawsuit | Sign-up period ends amid new uncertainty | Johnson & Johnson hits back over asbestos report 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Trump, Dems dig in over shutdown GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling 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.