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Urgent Crime Bill Update -- Three Days Left

The following highly urgent Crime Bill update was submitted by:

TO: All activists who are able to receive this.

FROM: Rob Kampia, Chapter Coordinator

DATE: Tuesday, June 21 (The last crime bill announcement was sent out on May 12.)

RE: You probably have up to three days to influence the Senate/House conference committee.


In November, the U.S. Senate passed a crime bill that contains hundreds of widely criticized, "tough on crime" provisions. This bill was sent to the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 3355. Earlier, U.S. Representative Craig Washington (D - Texas) had introduced H.R. 3315, an alternative crime bill that would have abolished all mandatory minimum sentences and reformed the civil asset forfeiture laws, among other things. NORML members supported Mr. Washington's bill.

Neither of these bills passed the House. Instead, the House passed H.R. 4092, another unfocused bill that isn't as bad as the Senate's version.

Because the Senate and House passed different crime bills, leaders from the Senate and House are meeting in what is called a "conference committee" to reconcile the differences between the bills. These leaders, who are called "c onferees," held their first public meeting on June 16. Their next meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, June 21. Many members of Congress are anxious to work out the differences in the bills as soon as possible, so that they can give President Clinton a crime bill to sign before July 4.

A possible timeline of what might happen with the crime bill is as follows:

Because the crime bill seems to be on a fast track, the time to act is now.

Although both crime bills contain a number of provisions that NORML supporters should be angry about--billions of dollars wasted on more prisons, the death penalty for drug "kingpins" even when death does not result from the crime, and so forth--there are only two provisions that activists should attempt to influence at this point:

1. THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT: Those who are convicted on three separate instances of committing "serious" crimes--such as rape, murder, robberies involving violence, and certain drug-related felonies--will receive mandatory life prison sentences if the third conviction is on the federal level. Both the Senate and House versions allow certain non-violent drug offenses to count as strikes.

The House version specifies the minimum amount of drugs that would qualify an offense as a strike--1 kilogram of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine, and so forth. Possession or trafficking of 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana, or even growing 1,000 plants or seedlings regardless of their weight or gender, counts as a strike in the House version.

The Senate version counts any felony drug offense as a strike. (Even growing one marijuana plant is a felony throughout the country.)

The Clinton administration supports the "three strikes" concept, but opposes permitting drug offenses to count as strikes. The president is on our side on this one.

2. MANDATORY MINIMUM SAFETY VALVE & RETROACTIVITY: The House version contains a safety valve that would allow federal defendants to escape a mandatory minimum sentence if they are first-time, non-violent, low-level drug offenders. The Senate version of the safety valve is slightly harder to qualify for, but essentially the same.

The House version, unlike the Senate version, contains a critical provision that allows retroactive application of the safety valve for inmates who have demonstrated good behavior and meet other criteria. (This would allow approximately 1,600 non-violent federal inmates to apply for early release.) The House version also directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to amend the federal sentencing guidelines to reflect this change.

The Clinton administration supports the safety valve for mandatory minimums, but opposes making it retroactive. The good news is that two conservative conferees, U.S. Representative Henry Hyde (R - Illinois) and U.S. Representative Bill McCollum (R - Florida), have both expressed support for retroactivity.


Project #1

Before June 24, please call or fax all 10 members of Congress listed below. (If you live in the state of one of the Senators or the district of one of the Representatives listed below, put extra effort into influencing his opinio n. He wants your vote!)

Say the following:

"As an American citizen concerned about crime, I ask that you do not pass a crime bill that increases penalties for non-violent drug violations. Specifically, I ask that you take the following positions during your conference committee negotiations:"

THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT: "Do not count non-violent drug offenses as strikes. Including drug offenses as strikes will overcrowd the prisons, which will cause violent criminals with one or two strikes to be let out early."

SAFETY VALVE: "Support the House version of the mandatory minimum 'safety valve.' Non-violent drug offenders with little or no criminal history should not be serving 5- or 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. Because there are thousands of low-level, non-violent drug offenders already in federal prisons, I would like to stress that the safety valve should be applied retroactively."


        Tel # (202)     Fax # (202)
1. Sen. Joseph Biden (D - Delaware)     224-5042        224-0139

2. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D - Vermont)     224-4242        224-3595 

3. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D - Ohio)    224-2315        224-6519 

4. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D - Massachusetts) 224-4543        224-2417

5. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D - Arizona)  224-4521        224-2302

6. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R - Utah)          224-5251        224-6331 

7. Sen. Alan Simpson (R - Wyoming)      224-3424        224-1315


        Tel # (202)     Fax # (202)
8. Rep. Jack Brooks (D - Texas)         225-6565        225-1584 

9. Rep. Bill Hughes (D - New Jersey)    225-6572        225-8530 

10. Rep. Charles Schumer (D - New York) 225-6616        225-4183

(There are nine other conferees who probably don't need to be contacted at this time.)

Project #2

Call or fax your three members of Congress listed below, and say the following:

"As a constituent, I ask that you ask the crime bill conferees not to pass a bill that increases penalties for non-violent drug violations. Specifically, I ask that you stress the following two issues:" [Repeat "three strikes" and safety valve messages above.]


11. Rep. ______ (Congressional switchboard is 202-224-3121.)
12. Sen. ______
13. Sen. ______

Project #3

Get all of your friends to do the same!


To activists who are really short on time: Call or fax Senator Dennis DeConcini (D - Arizona), as well as your two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative.

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