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Want bipartisanship in D.C.? Tell Mitch McConnell

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The FIRST STEP Act will show how important bipartisanship is to McConnell

By Zac Oakes

 

I frequently hear people talking about the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., and for good reason. It seems like every time you turn on the television, you hear more of the bickering back and forth between Republicans and Democrats and less of the two sides working together to create real change for the constituents they represent. 

There is an opportunity for that in Congress now, but Kentucky’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, is standing in the way, along with a small band of Republican senators. 

The opportunity for bipartisanship comes in the form of the FIRST STEP Act, a criminal justice reform bill that is simply as the name implies, a first step in a process that has taken years and years to come to. The bill only applies to federal prisons. 

The bill has support from the left and the right. On the right, the bill has support from evangelical groups such as the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a group of some 2,000+ pastors, the Koch Brothers, and Kentucky’s junior Senator, Rand Paul, along with President Donald Trump. On the other side, the ACLU and Sen. Cory Booker have been vocal supporters of the bill. 

It seems like a slam-dunk victory, right? After all, it was earlier this month when McConnell took to the airwaves speaking about the need for bipartisanship in Congress after Democrats took the House of Representatives on election night. 

In passing the bill, America gets the criminal justice reform it has so desperately needed for years in the form of giving judges more leeway with mandatory sentences, reforming sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine which has disproportionately affected African-Americans for decades, eliminating the practice of shackling pregnant inmates during childbirth and providing incarcerated women with hygiene products, provides needed funding for job training and rehabilitation to assist in the transition from incarceration back into society, and expand opportunity for prisoners to earn “good time” credits. 

These initial reforms would not only have lasting impacts on families across the country, but also stands to be a solid fiscal move by the government. 

Contrary to what McConnell and the resisters of this bill have led people to believe, this bill won’t flood the streets with violent felons. There is some controversy about a loophole that would allow some violent offenders to go free, but it seems like that is something that could be addressed before coming to a vote. 

This bill isn’t meant to be a wide-sweeping, massive reform of our country’s criminal justice system. That can’t be done in one bill, but this bill provides those necessary first steps that can have lasting change on families that stretch demographic boundaries. White, black, urban, rural, Republican, Democrat… this bill has the potential to be a bipartisan victory in an increasingly and alarmingly partisan environment. 

A similar bill passed in the house earlier this year, which had 19 cosponsors, 10 republicans and nine democrats. The bill passed the House 360-59, with 226 Republicans voting in support (including Taylor County’s representative James Comer) and 134 Democrats. That’s the type of bipartisanship we should be seeking in our federal government.

Senators should address the remaining loophole question and then McConnell should bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor. It would be blatantly hypocritical to do anything contrary. 

If you want to see bipartisanship in Congress, with our legislators working on both sides of the aisle to address an issue people in our country face, contact Mitch McConnell and tell him to let the Senate vote on the First STEP Act. He’s running out of excuses not to. 

 

McConnell’s office can be reached via phone in his Washington D.C. office at 202-224-2541, through his website at mcconnell.senate.gov, or through Facebook and Twitter.