End of the year report on federal sentencing bills in the 109th Congress
The 109th Congress ended its "lame-duck" session not with a bang but with a whimper, passing only temporary spending and tax cut legislation along with some other trade measures. Sentencing bills introduced within the past two years but not passed by the House and Senate and signed into law – such as H.R. 3072 (the parole bill), Rep. Sensenbrenner's Booker-fix bill, and H.R. 1279 and S. 155 (House and Senate gang bills) – died. That means there is no chance they can become law this year. However, their sponsors may decide to introduce them again or draft new legislation for the next Congress.
Up until the very end, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) was hopeful that a provision authorizing a federal Bureau of Prisons pilot program for the early release of elderly, nonviolent prisoners would pass. It got out of the Senate as an amendment to the Court Security bill, but the House failed to pass the bill. We will find a sponsor to reintroduce the bill next year.
The widely praised bipartisan Second Chance Act (S.1934/ H.R. 1704) met a similar fate in the Senate. Although many key Senators, including Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), worked to get the bill through the Senate, fellow Republican Tom Coburn (Okla.) blocked the bill for ideological reasons: In his view, it is not the federal government's role to aid states with prisoner reentry. Although the Second Chance Act fell short of becoming law, FAMM is hopeful that the 110th Congress will take it up, and judging from the widespread support it had, this setback could be short-lived.
We need your support to push the 110th Congress to make long-overdue changes to federal mandatory sentencing laws. The new Democratic leaders of the House and Senate are on record as opposing mandatory minimums and opportunities now exist for significant reform – but only if we fight with renewed vigor.
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Together, fair and proportionate sentencing laws can be a reality.