Government

Grassley: Criminal justice reform bill in 'good position'

Iowa Republican hopes for Senate vote before Christmas

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 27, 2018. (Saul Loeb/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 27, 2018. (Saul Loeb/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

He’s not claiming victory yet, but Sen. Chuck Grassley believes he and others backing criminal justice legislation “are in a very, very good position” as the Senate heads into the final weeks of the 2018 session.

Grassley, who is completing his fourth year as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, acknowledged Wednesday there are several big-ticket items remaining on the Senate agenda — avoiding a government shutdown and passage of a farm bill, for example.

“We’ve got plenty of time between now and Christmas to get our work done,” he said, “and we ought to stay in until we get pretty darned close to Christmas.”

Grassley will spend his time on criminal justice reform legislation that has gained the support of 12 Senate Democrats and 12 Senate Republicans as well as President Donald Trump.

Business, law enforcement and professional sports groups are backing the First Step Act, which Grassley introduced with Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

“We have a real opportunity here to enact the most significant criminal justice reform in a generation,” Grassley said.

He described the legislation as “carefully crafted to help low-risk offenders become productive citizens of society after they serve their time (while) keeping hardened and dangerous criminals behind bars.” The bill also would improve fairness in sentencing by making sure penalties fit the crimes.

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“And by reducing recidivism this bill would reduce crime and reduce taxpayer burden of incarceration,” Grassley told reporters. “I would back up that statement with evidence in several states that they have reduced the number of people in prison, saved the taxpayers a lot of money and reduced recidivism.”

His goal this week is to show Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he and Durbin have 65 to 70 votes for their bill. McConnell has not said he supports the bill and has been reluctant to bring it up without broad bipartisan support, Grassley said. However, he noted McConnell has brought legislation the leader did not support to the floor if it had backing from a large majority.

“We hope he sees we have the votes to easily pass it and score a significant bipartisan achievement before we adjourn,” Grassley said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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