I wrote in November about the vote I took against the three-strikes law in the House. The bill was intended to assure that the most dangerous and violent repeat offenders would be kept off the streets, an incontrovertible goal. But the devil is in the details, and, in my view, the bill overshot its goal, sweeping in many lesser offenders.
The House bill was referred to a House-Senate conference committee for reconciliation with a more comprehensive sentencing bill that the Senate had passed.
After a couple of meetings, it seems clear from public statements of the Speaker and the Senate President that the Senate is not going to support the narrow three-strikes bill proposed by the House. The Senate bill includes measures designed to reduce incarceration of non-violent drug offenders and is, arguably, intended to shift prison resources away from non-violent drug offenders towards more violent offenders.
A conference committee report is not subject to amendment on the floor — members have to vote yes or no. Because the House took a narrow first pass at the problem, it would not be fair to members of the House for the conference committee to proceed forward and negotiate a comprehensive sentencing bill. House members did not consider anything but the three-strikes provision in their vote and would have no opportunity to weigh in on the many other important questions in a comprehensive bill.
So, we can expect over the weeks and months to come that a more comprehensive bill will come before the House for debate on the floor. That bill will then go back to the Senate for consideration and things could develop in a number of different procedural directions. But the big picture is this: If a bill is to pass in this session, it is most likely to be a comprehensive bill and that will, almost inevitably, take some months to resolve.
So, in effect, the pure three-strikes bill that the House passed is essentially a statement of interest in sentencing changes. Hopefully, we can get to a much better bill by end of the session.
My personal priority at this stage is to get some good numbers about the impact on prison populations of the different options. Much of the argument — on both sides of the questions, my opinion piece is an example — has so far has been anecdotal.