Through careful negotiations, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate working on the criminal-justice reform bill announced yesterday came to a compromise on how to reduce mandatory minimums, reports the National Journal. Instead of cutting them in half, lawmakers would expand the “safety valve” that allows exceptions to the tough penalties. Describing the talks that led to the compromise, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), “He is not a lawyer, but boy is he a sharp negotiator. I cannot tell you how many hours we spent, our staff spent going back and forth trying to find some common ground.”
The safety valve proposal would give courts and judges more room to look at more individual cases when sentencing, instead of being wedded to tight guidelines, but also would give Grassley assurances that sentences would not be reduced unilaterally. “We had to carefully walk our way through it. There was nothing automatic about it,” Durbin said about the negotiations. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said, “Sen. Grassley should be congratulated and commended for his efforts to be open-minded on the topic where most people said it was impossible for him to move on it. The man is a thinker.” The final sticking point was how to handle concerns of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) about how the legislation dealt with the criminal records of juveniles. Some conservatives are still weary of the reductions in mandatory minimums. “My impression is they probably went further than I am comfortable with,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).