House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said his committee is actively working on sentencing reform, prison re-entry reform, civil asset forfeiture reform and technology improvements as part of criminal justice reform legislation.
“All of these things relate to providing greater justice to the people of the United States and that’s why, I think, it resonates in a bipartisan way. In the last Congress, we passed 11 bills out of the Judiciary Committee dealing with the issues I just described and more, and now are going to do that again in this new Congress,” he said during a press conference with the House Judiciary Committee’s Policing Strategies Working Group following a discussion with community leaders on police accountability Thursday at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston.
“But our next step is to get them brought to the floor of the House. The Senate has interest there, but they have not produced legislation out of their committee yet,” he added. “And then, ultimately, get it to the desk of the president of the United States for signature – and I think this is such a bipartisan thing that has interest across the political spectrum and think-tanks, both conservative and liberal viewpoints support this, that I think this would be a major accomplishment for the country.”
Goodlatte said criminal justice reform should include better use of technology such as DNA to make sure innocent people are “never charged with a crime in the first place, or if they are charged they are not convicted.”
He explained that there are six Republicans and six Democrats on the committee’s Policing Strategies Working Group, which is dedicated to finding ways to tackle local policing issues at the federal level.
“I think it’s very heartening to see the bipartisan cooperation we are working under. We want to see that translated across the country,” he said.
“It’s imperative that we come together to address the violent attacks on police officers and instances of excessive force by police officers,” the chairman added. “We want to see an end to this senseless violence. This issue primarily needs to be addressed at the local level.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the group of lawmakers and police officers at the Houston meeting discussed bail reform and the state of the relationship between the police and the local community. Jackson Lee said minorities are being disproportionately incarcerated compared to their white counterparts and told reporters that the committee is examining ways to address bail reform on the federal level.
“We have to take care of the impotent. You can’t let people sit in jail because they don’t have money. Therefore, they lose their house, their job, their family and they might have just bought a ticket or a warrant because they got a lot of tickets and they haven’t been able to get out of jail,” Jackson Lee said.
“Constitutionally, there is some question of whether we can hold people and hold them only on their basis of their impotent status,” she added. “And we are working on that locally and we’ll be looking at it on the federal level because Houston is moving forward to change it – so listen out, because it may be changed soon.”
House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Cedrick Richmond (D-La.) also participated in the meeting.