The Senate passed a criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act with wide bipartisan support in a 87-12 vote on Tuesday night. But those opposing the bill, including prominent Republican senators like Tom Cotton (R-AK), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), are warning that the legislation would allow child molesters and violent felons eligibility for early release, threatening public safety.
“While the bill has marginally improved from earlier versions, I’m disappointed my amendments to exclude child molesters from early release and to protect victims’ rights were not adopted,” Sen. Cotton said in a statement released Wednesday. “I also remain concerned that reducing sentences for drug traffickers and violent felons is a threat to public safety.”
In an op-ed published on Monday at National Review, Cotton similarly warned fellow conservatives. “A number of serious felonies, including violent crimes, are still eligible for early release in the version of the bill the Senate will vote on in a matter of days. In short, the First Step Act [criminal justice overhaul] flunks their basic test to protect public safety,” he wrote.
Sen. Sasse (R-NE) echoed such concerns, too, joining Cotton in a “no” vote on Tuesday. As the Lincoln Journal-Star reported, Sasse said he opposes the bill because “it will release thousands of violent felons very early.”
The First Step Act must “ensure that violent and dangerous criminals are not eligible for early release,” Sasse said.
“Everyone should want two things,” the senator said in a statement: “to keep families together by reducing sentences for certain non-violent offenders … and to keep our communities safe from violent criminals who rightly belong behind bars.”
Releasing violent felons “is a grave mistake that will hurt innocent Americans,” Sasse warned. “Good intentions are not enough.”
Rubio, one of the 12 GOP “no” votes, said the First Step Act “did not address serious concerns raised by local law enforcement, federal prosecutors and constituents in Florida about the sentencing reforms in this bill,” reports the Tampa Bay Times.
“As I’ve said before, reforms to our criminal justice system are needed because 95 percent of federal inmates will be released at some point,” Rubio added. “Preparing them to integrate into society and find meaningful work is in our best interests, but we must always err on the side of public safety.”
“Let me just tell you that I think everyone is in favor of the first part of that bill which I’ve long supported as a separate bill and that is the idea that if someone is going to get out of jail anyway, they’re scheduled to be out of jail in 10 years, 5 years or 15 years it behooves us, it’s in our interest, to make sure that those people have training and those people have skills acquisition and the kinds of things that you need in order to be successful so you don’t go back to jail,” Rubio emphasized on Fox News radio Tuesday.
“I think mandatory minimum sentences can sometimes have impacts that you look at it and say aren’t fair, but we also have to recognize mandatory and minimum sentences have taken really terrible human beings off the streets for long periods of time,” he added. “The best way to prevent a criminal from committing another crime is to not let them get out there.”
The First Step Act was heavily influenced by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. President Trump celebrated the bipartisan “historic” effort in the Senate on Tuesday night. As noted by Daily Wire’s James Barrett, the bill is now expected to easily pass through the House later this week.