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Legislation that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine passed the U.S. House with broad bipartisan support, but Sen. Chuck Grassley doubts it can get the necessary votes in the Senate.
Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been pushing a package of criminal justice reform measures that could reduce the sentencing difference, now 18 to 1, “but I don’t think one-to-one can pass,” he said Wednesday.
The House voted 361-66 to approve the Equal Act with the support of all four Iowa representatives — three Republicans and a Democrat.
Grassley co-sponsored legislation that changed the federal government’s 100 to 1 sentencing ratio — with heavier sentences for crack cocaine than powder cocaine — to 18 to 1.
“I think there's a possibility of reducing the 18 to 1 differential we have now,” he said during his weekly call with Iowa reporters.
However, he’s not willing to reduce it if it sinks the criminal justice reform package he and Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin are working to pass.
A broad coalition of justice reform advocates support the Equal Act, including groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Legislative Exchange Council, associations representing prosecuting attorneys and criminal defense attorneys, and faith-based groups.
Backers say the two types of cocaine are essentially the same except for texture, so the sentencing disparity should not be so great or not exist at all.
However, opponents argue the disparity exists because the effects of crack versus powder cocaine -- in terms of recidivism, addiction and violent crime -- are quite different, and heavier sentences for crack cocaine protect public safety.
Eliminating the sentencing disparity faces opposition from Judiciary Committee Republicans, Grassley said, “and I don't know how wide it is in the caucus as a whole.”
He believes Durbin supports a package of four or five criminal justice reform bills, but if the House version of the Equal Act is included, “it'll bring down the whole package,” Grassley said.
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