Bipartisan group of senators agrees on criminal justice reforms

Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Charles Grassley.

Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Charles Grassley.

(Lauren Victoria Burke / Associated Press)

After months of wrangling, a bipartisan group of senators will announce a compromise criminal justice reform bill Thursday morning, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said.

The bill will reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences, give judges more discretion for sentencing low-level drug offenders and provide a means for offenders to get out of prison early if they go through rehabilitation programs, Grassley said Wednesday.

The proposal will be much more modest than the sweeping reforms Senate Democrats passed last year. That bill would have slashed mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses by at least half.

Despite the strong bipartisan coaltion of nine senators backing the latest proposal, it faces uncertain prospects, even in the Senate.


The bill is likely to be burdened with crippling amendments, including one on abortion, from conservatives who vow to fight it tooth and nail, backers say.

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) has been critical of a more liberal criminal justice proposal that has been introduced in the House and has been working very slowly on his own more modest proposal.

Presssure on Goodlatte to pass reform legislation increased last summer when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he supported reforms. But Boehner announced last week that he is resigning from Congress on Oct. 30.

Backers in the Senate say that criminal justice reforms must be passed and on the president’s desk by early next year to have a chance of becoming law in a presidential election year. That’s a tall order given the partisan turmoil that is expected to bog down both houses of Congress in the coming months.

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