Prison Reform Easily Clears House Panel

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Congress edged closer to a rare bipartisan achievement when a House panel voted overwhelmingly to send a prison reform plan to the floor, despite internal GOP tensions in the Senate over the White House-backed bill, Politico reports. The legislation, a key priority of Jared Kushner, won easy approval in the House Judiciary Committee. It was a striking turnabout after backers scrapped a vote on an earlier version two weeks ago. The bill’s lopsided 25-5 vote masked disputes among Senate Republicans and House Democrats over its omission of sentencing reforms opposed by President Trump. Critics of the measure say those sentencing reforms are crucial to any deal.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has allied with Democratic supporters of a broader criminal justice package that includes both sentencing and prison reform provisions. GOP leaders in both chambers want to instead move the narrower prison bill, which would authorize training for prisoners aimed at reducing recidivism rates. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), a previous backer of the broader criminal justice overhaul who has narrowed his sights to prison reform, hopes to negotiate with Grassley on a path forward. While one option is allowing Grassley’s camp a vote on sentencing provisions as an amendment, Cornyn explained, there may be a chance to give the Iowan floor time for “other issues” that “maybe he’s worried there won’t be enough floor time to get a vote on.” Grassley and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), said that, “For any criminal justice reform proposal to win approval in the Senate, it must include these sentencing reforms.” A House floor vote on the bill is possible before the Memorial Day recess.

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