Getting legislators on both sides of the aisle in Congress to agree that the sky is blue takes nothing short of a miracle these days. And that stops so much important and bipartisan legislation from happening, it hurts the country.
Look at criminal justice reform. We are so close on this important legislation. What we need now is for Texas’ senators to step up. Texans had been able to count on Sen. Ted Cruz’s commitment to criminal justice reform. That’s why we’re flummoxed that Cruz opposes the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that addresses some of the very issues the senator previously championed.
It’s a bill with wide support. Backed by conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and liberal organizations like the Urban League, it passed in the U.S. House with a vote of 360-59 — including all but four of 36 members of the Texas delegation. It also has the support of President Donald Trump.
The First Step Act is not radical legislation that will release violent felons, allowing them to roam free and bring harm to citizens. It contains modest reforms having to do with sentencing disparities, expanding family visits and phone privileges, increasing the availability of female products in federal prisons and ending the shackling of prisoners during childbirth.
That’s what makes Cruz’s opposition so confusing and disappointing. In recent comments to the Washington Times, he said, “My central concern is that we should not be releasing violent criminals.” However, nothing in the current legislation allows for that, and Cruz didn’t elaborate on how he drew that conclusion from the legislation.
We also had hoped that John Cornyn would step up and lead, but we’re not seeing much from him either. The senior senator has been at the forefront of criminal justice reform, and while he doesn’t oppose the legislation like Cruz, his tepid approach leaves us scratching our heads. Time is running out to get this done before the new Congress is sworn in.
Should it move into 2019, both chambers will have to start from scratch, and there’s no telling how Trump and the likely speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, will get along. With political divisions already running deep, there’s a chance nothing happens, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone.
It’s an unacceptable outcome and one that cannot be left to petty politics. If there’s been one constant since Trump took office, it’s his impetuousness. Since he’s expressed support for the First Step Act, it’s critical the Senate move quickly, knowing Trump will affix his signature to the legislation.
The reform bill is a long time coming. We’re a long way from the “tough on crime” attitude that permeated Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, leading to laws that took discretion from judges and incarcerated people for long periods of time for nonviolent drug offenses.
John Cornyn and Ted Cruz should help get it across the finish line.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS