On Monday, September 10, the Justice Action Network co-signed a letter of opposition delivered to members of the Senate in regards to H.R. 6691, the Community Safety and Security Act. You can read the full text of the letter below.
As center-right organizations that work on criminal justice issues, we write to inform you about serious concerns we have about H.R. 6691, the Community Safety and Security Act. This legislation was approved by the House on September 7, 2018.
The Community Safety and Security Act (“CSSA”) would greatly expand the definition of what is a “violent crime” under 18 U.S.C. 16. Our primary concern is that the bill would classify some crimes as violent that, while serious, are not inherently violent acts. In doing so, CSSA would drastically expand the application of various mandatory minimums under 18 U.S.C. 924, thereby putting greater strain on an already overburdened criminal justice system.
Aside from substantive concerns, the process by which the bill was brought to the floor is particularly troublesome. CSSA was formally introduced last Friday, August 31, and was voted on under a closed rule in the House of Representatives on Friday, September 7. No hearings were ever held in the House Judiciary Committee and no avenue for meaningful discussion or amendment of the legislative text was provided.
The process around any legislation being voted on, but especially legislation that impacts individual liberty through the criminal code, should give stakeholders an opportunity to provide their expertise and input. Regular order should be followed to ensure legislators have ample time to review, understand, and offer changes to the bill. Because regular order was not followed for H.R. 6691, an opportunity to properly debate the legislation was denied.
The result of such a closed process is that substantive policy issues could not be fully addressed in the week between when CSSA was introduced and when it was brought to the House floor. Problems are numerous, but chief among them is the arbitrary and overbroad manner in which certain crimes would be classified as “violent.”
Burglary absent even the presence of another individual, fleeing a law enforcement officer, and interference with flight crew members and attendants are all defined as crimes of violence in the current iteration of CSSA. Although unquestionably serious and deserving of punishment, these crimes are not necessarily violent in nature or in practice.
We recognize the goal of the legislation is to remedy the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Sessions v. Dimaya (2018) and Johnson v. United States (2015). However, concerns with the CSSA bill should have been discussed, debated and addressed in an open process of careful consideration before Members of Congress were asked to vote on it.
With several revisions, the legislation could be a step in the right direction in addressing Constitutional issues raised by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, such revisions were not possible. The result is a bill that is overbroad, and if enacted, would significantly and unnecessarily increase America’s already high incarceration rate.
Legislation that impacts individual freedom and liberty should be carefully considered and fully debated. CSSA was neither. If it is ultimately enacted in its present form, CSSA will stand as another example of how a closed process can result in public policies that do more harm than good.
In the coming weeks, we will reach out to your staff to discuss H.R. 6691 in more detail. In the interim, we urge our allies in Congress to ensure that the bill does not move forward without substantial changes to address our concerns.
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.
Justice Action Network
Americans for Tax Reform
American Conservative Union
R Street Institute
Right on Crime
Americans for Prosperity