The House Friday neared completion of a Republican rewrite of the 1994 anti-crime law by approving legislation to authorize $10.5 billion in prison-building grants and faster deportation of illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.
The overwhelming votes sent the two bills to the Senate and cleared the way for House action next week on the sixth and final chapter of the GOP revision $10 billion in crimefighting block grants that would wipe out funds now dedicated to police and prevention programs. House GOP leaders have postponed until May consideration of other legislation to repeal a new ban on some military-style assault weapons.
The prison bill, approved 265 to 156, would increase by $2.5 billion the funds available to state and local governments to build or expand prisons. To get half the $10.5 billion, officials would have to agree to imprison violent offenders for 85 percent of their sentences, a condition that few jurisdictions currently meet. Less stringent conditions would apply to the remaining funds.
The deportation bill, passed 380 to 20, would bring smugglers of illegal immigrants under expedited procedures in the 1994 law. The changes would target relatively few illegal immigrant felons, according to a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
GOP sponsors said the prison bill would give states financial incentives to satisfy public opinion that favors locking up violent offenders longer. They currently serve an average of about 40 percent of their sentences, according to the House Judiciary Committee.
What Republicans dub “truth in sentencing” would require states to commit to more than double the actual time served, but officials would have three years to implement the policy.
Democratic critics accused Republicans of hypocritically imposing on states the kind of federal constraints that GOP lawmakers have condemned in other legislation.
States that sentence offenders to a range of years would only have to show that the average prison time for serious crimes exceeded the national average by at least 10 percent, an exception included at the urging of Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, whose state imposes such indeterminate sentences.
The 1994 anticrime law authorized $8 billion for prison-building with a flexible requirement that states produce a corrections plan and make progress towards incarcerating violent offenders longer. The GOP would increase the prison funds by reducing funds available for other law enforcement programs, such as 100,000 new police, specialized drug courts and social programs.