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Legislature

Grassley promises open process to criminal justice reform bill

Iowa senator says 'bipartisan, bicameral support' will help measure move quickly

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks during an interview on Fox Business Network in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks during an interview on Fox Business Network in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

DES MOINES — A criminal justice reform bill will have every opportunity to be amended, said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is shepherding the broad legislation through the Judiciary Committee he chairs.

But any amendment that threatens the bill’s passage will be met with resistance, Grassley promised.

Last week, Grassley and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenders, gives judges more leeway in determining sentence lengths for low-level drug crimes and aims to reduce recidivism by creating programs to help released prisoners re-enter society.

Grassley called the legislation the biggest criminal justice reform proposal in a generation.

The legislation was developed by a team of Republican and Democratic senators, and its initial sponsors include four Republicans and four Democrats.

On Wednesday, during his weekly conference call with Iowa reporters, Grassley said he will allow senators to introduce amendments on the bill. But he also said any amendment that threatens the legislation’s bipartisan support will be fought.

“I wouldn’t say we would ward off all amendments because there might be something that really enhances the bill,” Grassley said. “But anything that would detract from the bipartisan compromise, we (senators who support the bill) are committed to fighting together.”

Grassley said he wants to maintain “bipartisan, bicameral support” for the bill “so we can move the bill quickly.”

Among the provisions in the legislation, according to Grassley’s office:

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• It reduces enhanced penalties for repeat drug offenders, except those with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

• It gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level drug offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.

• It directs the Department of Justice to perform risk assessments on all federal inmates and assign some to appropriate programs designed to reduce recidivism. Examples include rehabilitation and work-, education- and faith-based programs. Prisoners who successfully complete these programs would be eligible to spend up to the final quarter of their sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

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