Criminal justice reform gets a strong bipartisan push in the Senate

The U.S. Capitol building.
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The Senate voted 82-12 Monday to close debate on the First Step Act and bring the legislation to a final vote in the upper chamber as soon as Tuesday. The House has already passed a different version of the bill and would have to vote again on this version before it could be sent President Trump, who has said he will sign it.

The First Step Act's main concern is sentencing reform, giving judges greater discretion in sentencing for some future convictions. It also makes retroactive a prior sentencing reform law and slightly expands the circumstances under which inmates can earn earlier transfer to pre-release custody. If passed, First Step will only apply to the federal prison system, which means about nine in 10 of America's 2.1 million inmates won't be affected.

Support for ending debate does not necessarily translate to support for the bill itself. Most Democrats are expected to vote yes, though some have criticized First Step for being too cautious a reform.

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Some Republicans, meanwhile, have argued it is too lenient. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has penned a series of op-eds opposing the legislation and, with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), will introduce amendments limiting the convictions eligible for early release and requiring public reports about those released. First Step supporters believe the amendments are a "poison pill" intended to divide the bipartisan coalition backing the bill.

"The amendments [Cotton] will propose tomorrow, the senator from Arkansas, have been opposed by groups across the board, left and right, conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat — they all oppose his amendments," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "If he goes with the amendments we've seen, we're going to have to do our best to oppose him."

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