Crime bill reinforces value of bipartisanship
The conservative colleagues of Sen. John Cornyn in Congress should take note of what he did this week — playing a leading role in a criminal-justice bill that has earned support from both parties. Sen. Ted Cruz, along with House members like our region’s U.S. Reps. Brian Babin and Randy Weber, should realize that they can remain true to their conservative roots and still reach out to Democrats occasionally to get things done.
Cornyn tries to seek common ground more than other Texas congressmen. Yet he remains a solid conservative by any logical definition, even rising to No. 2 in the GOP Senate hierarchy behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That standing helped him shepherd this bill along — with the support of reasonable Democrats who were also searching for compromise.
The result, the First Step Act, is the most far-reaching criminal-justice bill in a long time. It realizes that the courts can be smart on crime as well as being tough on crime. It reduces federal penalties for some less-serious crimes and gives judges more leeway in sentencing some offenders. It also offers early release to some inmates through job training and vocational programs.
That last part is probably the most important aspect of this bill. Virtually all inmates in state and federal prisons are released at some point. If they have the education, job skills and drug counseling to succeed in the outside world, they have a much better chance of becoming productive citizens. If they are treated like animals in prison and locked away for unfairly long periods, they are likely to emerge bitter and unable to adapt to society. They’ll probably commit more crimes and end up back in prison.
The bill that Cornyn and a few others worked on for so long tries to avoid this trap. Incredibly, after a lot of outreach and consultation, it was approved 87-12 in the Senate and 360-59 in the House in an earlier version. The common-sense measure was supported by such divergent forces as the conservative Koch brothers and the American Civil Liberties Union. President Donald Trump has also supported the effort, along with his son-in-law, Jared Kusher, whose father was a white-collar criminal who spent years in federal prison.
Cornyn started working on this bill in 2014, which shows how long it can take to get things done in Washington. Cruz got on board after getting some violent offenders exempted from this bill. That’s fine, too, because compromise means give and take from all sides.
This bill will probably be signed into law either late this year or in early January. Either way, it’s a good way to kick off the new Congress and give voters hope that Washington can still function effectively. If bills like this become the rule rather than the exception, that would be even better.