Senate Democrats

Judiciary Committee Bills Blocked by Senator Coburn and Bush-McCain Republicans

Among the many bipartisan, non-controversial bills Senator Coburn has been blocking through petty procedural maneuvers, some of the most egregious deal with the law and criminal justice. Indefensibly, Senator Coburn has blocked the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, a bill to strengthen the Justice Department’s ability to solve the many murders still unsolved from the Civil Rights era – like that of Emmett Till himself.  He has also blocked common-sense bills to crack down on child pornographers and child exploitation.  Delaying these bills has real consequences for the many Americans who are victims of crimes.  But the responsibility does not lie with Coburn alone; the Republican leadership has done nothing to convince Coburn to lift his objections.  Hopefully, with the help of a few courageous Republicans, the Senate can bring to an end Senator Coburn’s obstruction of these critical bills. 

Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act – Passed the House 422-2; Obstructed for Over a Year

Strengthens the Federal Government’s Ability to Investigate and Prosecute Unsolved Murders from the Civil Rights Era. This bill will strengthen the ability of the Federal government to investigate and prosecute unsolved murders from the civil rights era.  It would create new cold case units at the Justice Department and FBI solely dedicated to investigating and prosecuting unsolved cases involving violations of criminal civil rights statutes which resulted in death and occurred before January 1, 1970.  The Senate legislation was introduced on February 8, 2007.  The Judiciary Committee reported S.535 by unanimous consent as amended by a complete substitute that mirrored the House companion bill on June 20, 2007.  The House legislation was introduced on February 8, 2007, reported by the House Judiciary Committee on June 13, 2007 by voice vote, and passed the House on June 20, 2007 with a vote of 422-2. [S.535/HR 923]

Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act of 2007 – Passed the House 409-0; Obstructed for Several Months 

Closes a Legal Loophole to Ensure Child Pornography Offenses Are Prohibited to their Fullest Extent Under Law. This bipartisan bill would close a jurisdictional loophole that allowed a Kansas man who was convicted of possessing child pornography to escape punishment.  H.R.4120 would expand definitions used in the crimes of child sexual exploitation and child pornography to cover those offenses to the full extent of Congress’s Commerce Clause powers.  This legislation was introduced on November 8, 2007, and passed the House under suspension by a vote of 409-0. [HR 4120]

Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography Act of 2007 – Passed the House 416-0; Obstructed for Several Months  

Cracks Down on Child Pornographers. This bill would amend the federal criminal code to: (1) include child pornography activities and the production of such pornography for importation into the United States as predicate crimes for money laundering prosecutions; and (2) define “possess” with respect to crimes of child sexual exploitation and child pornography to include accessing by computer visual depictions of child pornography with the intent to view.  The House legislation was introduced on November 9, 2007, and passed the house under suspension of the rules 416-0 on November 15, 2007.  Senators Vitter and Lincoln are the sponsor and primary cosponsor of the Senate companion bill. [S.2869/HR 4136]

PROTECT Our Children Act – Passed the House 415-2; Obstructed for Over Two Months

Establishes a Special Counsel for Child Exploitation Prevention and an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. This bill would seek to streamline the protection and investigation of child exploitation cases by establishing a Special Counsel for Child Exploitation Prevention within the Department of Justice, and to combine state, local, and federal insight into how best to address the growing problem of child exploitation on the internet through creation of an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.  The task force would create a data system to report to law enforcement agencies up-to-date information about high-priority suspects.  H.R.3845 was introduced on October 16, 2007, and passed the House on November 14, 2007, by a vote of 415 – 2.  The Senate companion legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a substitute amendment by voice vote on May 15, 2008.  The Senate bill’s Republican cosponsors include Senators Stevens, Hatch, Hutchison, and Murkowski. [S.1738/HR 3845]

Drug Endangered Children Act of 2007 – Passed the House 389-4; Blocked for Over Two Months

Authorizes $20 Million Per Year in Grants to Help Transition Drug Endangered Children Into Safe Environments. This bipartisan bill would authorize the Department of Justice to award $20 million per year in grants designated to improve coordination among law enforcement, prosecutors, child protection services, social service agencies, and health care providers to help transition drug endangered children into safe residential environments.  The House bill was introduced on February 27, 2007, and passed the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote on July 25, 2007.  H.R.1199 passed the House by a vote of 389-4 on September 24, 2007.  The Senate companion bill passed the Senate Committee on the Judiciary by unanimous consent on May 22, 2007. [S.1210/HR 1199]

Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act – Passed the House by Voice Vote; Obstructed for Over a Month

Authorizes Additional Funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Assistance, Authorizes a Public Education Campaign and Develops Performance Standards. This subtitle would reauthorize and increase authorization levels for the programs under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) through the year 2013, including the Basic Center Program (BCP) and the Transitional Living Program (TLP). This subtitle would also permit HHS to redistribute unexpended funds to other BCP applicants for a one-year grant period. The Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act would require HHS to develop performance standards for RHYA direct service grantees, require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the grant-making process for these programs under HHS, require HHS to conduct an incidence study on the prevalence of the runaway and homeless youth population, and authorize HHS to conduct a public information campaign to raise awareness of the unaccompanied youth population and their service and support needs.  The Senate legislation was introduced on May 6, 2008 and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a substitute amendment by unanimous consent on May 22, 2008.  The House legislation was introduced on March 4, 2008 and passed the House by voice vote on June 9, 2008. [S. 2982/HR 5524]

Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2008 – Passed the House by Voice Vote; Obstructed for Over Three Months

Helps Communities Address the Needs of the Mentally Ill in the Justice System and Improves Law Enforcement Response to Incidents Involving Mentally Ill Persons.  Under this bill, state and local governments can apply for funding for mental health courts, which can divert qualified offenders from prison to receive treatment; programs to provide specialized training for criminal justice and mental health system personnel; local treatment programs that serve individuals with mental illness; and mental health treatment for those in or released from prison  This legislation would authorize funding for these programs to help communities address the needs of the mentally ill in our justice system and to help law enforcement officers recognize and respond to incidents involving mentally ill persons.  Senator Domenici is the sponsor of the Senate bill, and Senator Specter is also an original cosponsor.  The Senate Judiciary Committee reported an amended version of S.2304 to the calendar on April 1, 2008 by unanimous consent.  The House bill was introduced on October 30, 2007 and passed the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote on November 7, 2007.  The House passed H.R.3992 by voice vote on January 23, 2008. [S.2304/H.R.3992]  

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