The House Judiciary Committee is working on a bipartisan basis on several bills to improve the criminal justice system. These bills will ensure that our federal criminal laws and regulations appropriately punish wrongdoers, are effectively and appropriately enforced, operate with fairness and compassion, protect individual freedom, safeguard civil liberties, work as efficiently as possible, do not impede state efforts, and do not waste taxpayer dollars.
On November 18, 2015, the House Judiciary Committee will begin a series of markups to begin reforming the US Criminal Justice System. Details of the first markup can be found here.
Bills Approved To Date
The Sentencing Reform Act: The Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 reduces certain mandatory minimums for drug offenses, reduces the three-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years, broadens the existing safety valve for low-level drug offenders, and provides judges with greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences while ensuring that serious violent felons do not get out early. The bill also contains sentencing enhancements for Fentanyl trafficking, a highly addictive and deadly drug that is becoming a growing epidemic in the United States. A one-pager on the Sentencing Reform Act can be found here and section-by-section can be found here.
The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 4002), authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), creates a default mens rea standard that applies when federal law does not provide a state of mind requirement so that only those who actually intend to commit the crime can be criminally liable. It also creates uniform definitions for several terms that are used frequently throughout title 18 of the Criminal Code. This legislation protects honest Americans and small businesses from facing legal repercussions for unintentional violations.
The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015 (H.R. 4003), sponsored by Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), takes an important step in reining in federal regulatory overreach. The bill requires every federal agency to submit a report to Congress listing each rule of that agency that, if violated, may be punishable by criminal penalties, along with information about the rule, so that Congress can make a determination about whether a criminal penalty is appropriate.
The Clean Up the Code Act of 2015 (H.R. 4023), authored by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), eliminates several statutes in the U.S. Code that subject violators to criminal penalties for trivial conduct, such as the unauthorized use of the 4-H emblem, the Swiss Confederation coat of arms, “Smokey the Bear” character or name, and “Woodsy Owl” character, name or slogan, as well as the interstate transportation of dentures.
The Fix the Footnotes Act of 2015 (H.R. 4001), sponsored by Congressman Ken Buck (R-Colo.), fixes the footnotes in the current version of the Criminal Code to address errors made by Congress in drafting the laws. While the fixes may only be technical changes, every word is important when Americans’ liberty is at stake.
The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 1854): This bipartisan, bicameral bill – authored by Congressmen Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) – reauthorizes and updates the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004. It promotes public safety and community health by facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems to ensure those with mental illness receive the treatment and help they need.
The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3406): This bill helps prisoners who have completed their sentences successfully return to society, thereby enhancing public safety. This legislation, authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.), builds on the success of the original Second Chance Act of 2008 and continues to authorize funding for both public and private entities to evaluate and improve reentry programming, including academic and vocational education for offenders in prison, jails and juvenile facilities. This legislation also includes important accountability measures and eliminates programs that have not been used.
Additional Background: The House Judiciary Committee has been working on criminal justice reform for several years. In the 113th Congress, the House Judiciary Committee launched the Over-Criminalization Task Force. The Task Force held over a dozen hearings on issues facing the criminal justice system, such as over-federalization, regulatory crime, criminal penalties, and prison reform, among other topics. In the 114th Congress, solutions identified by the Task Force have started to be implemented. One small – yet very important – step is that the House Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction over criminal matters has been strengthened in the Rules Package adopted earlier this year, which ensures that the Committee has the opportunity to review all new federal criminal laws and ensure that they are appropriately drafted, fit with the overall federal criminal law scheme, are appropriate in force relative to other criminal laws, and are necessary.
Over-Criminalization Task Force Hearings
- 6/14/13: DEFINING THE PROBLEM AND SCOPE OF OVER-CRIMINALIZATION AND OVER-FEDERALIZATION
- 7/19/13: MENS REA: THE NEED FOR A MEANINGFUL INTENT REQUIREMENT IN FEDERAL CRIMINAL LAW
- 10/30/13:REGULATORY CRIME: IDENTIFYING THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
- 9/14/13: REGULATORY CRIME: SOLUTIONS
- 2/28/14: CRIMINAL CODE REFORM
- 3/27/14: OVER-FEDERALIZATION
- 5/30/14: PENALTIES
- 6/26/:14: COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES
- 7/11/14: AGENCY PERSPECTIVES
- 7/25/14: THE CRIMES ON THE BOOKS AND COMMITTEE JURISDICTION