Capitol & State

Labrador sentencing reform bill touted by Paul Ryan, Washington Post

Sophomore Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador's bill to ease mandatory sentences that have spurred a 21-fold increase in the number of drug offenders in federal prison since 1980, got a big boost this week.

Both House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on the right and and the Washington Post editorial board on the left offered strong endorsements.

Ryan, R-Wis., spoke to the free-market American Enterprise Institute Thursday, hailing H.R. 3382, the "Smarter Sentencing Act," which was introduced in October by Labrador and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.

"We need commonsense criminal-justice reform," said Ryan, the 2012 GOP nominee for vice president in prepared remarks provided by Labrador's office. "We need to give people the opportunity to earn a second chance.

"Luckily, my colleagues have done a lot of good work on this front," Ryan continued. "Senator Mike Lee and Congressmen Raul Labrador and Bobby Scott have introduced a bill to reform our sentencing guidelines. It would give judges more discretion with low-risk, non-violent offenders. All we’re saying is, they don’t have to give the maximum sentence every time. There’s no reason to lock someone up any longer than necessary.”

Labrador's bill has support from groups across the spectrum, including Heritage Action, ACLU, NAACP, American Bar Association, American Correctional Association, Constitution Project and Justice Fellowship on Prison Fellowship Ministries.

In its editorial Wednesday, the Post wrote, “The core of the problem — overly tough mandatory minimum sentences and the difficulty in reintegrating ex-prisoners into society — can be addressed only by Congress.

"Luckily, two bills are pending that precisely address these issues. The Smarter Sentencing Act would reform how prisoners are sentenced....The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, reforms the way prisoners reintegrate into society....

"Sponsors of these two proposals are negotiating on whether to bundle them together. Whether that is successful or not, both bills should pass. They will help lower the crime rate in the long run, bring proportionality back into punishments and save millions of dollars a year.”

The editorial quotes conservative tax hawk Grover Norquist saying, "Conservatives should lead on this. "Liberals don't have a track record on crime. We do."

H.R. 3382 has 49 sponsors, 16 Republicans and 33 Democrats. A Senate version of the bill, S. 1410, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and was reported to the full Senate in March. S. 1410 has 29 sponsors, 21 Democrats, six Republicans and two independents.

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson, all Republicans, have not signed on to either bill.

The Post editorial closes: "Perhaps the Republicans stalling on these bills should listen to Mr. Norquist. Some lawmakers think the earliest chance of passage would be in 2015, but there's no reason it can't be done this year."