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Attempt to Pass the Second Chance Act Before Congress Adjourns is Unsuccessful; Legislation is Expected to be Reintroduced in the Upcoming New Congress

Despite an effort to move the Second Chance Act through Congress before the end of the 109th Congress, the legislation has stalled in the Senate.  The 109th Congress is scheduled to end on December 8th; all legislation still pending in this Congress would need to be reintroduced and co-sponsors would need to be gathered again in the 110th Congress, scheduled to begin in January. The Second Chance Act would provide demonstration grants to States, local areas, and non-profits to begin to address the need for alcohol and drug addiction and mental health treatment, job training and education opportunities, housing and a range of other services for individuals and their families following a period of incarceration and upon their return to the community.  The legislation, H.R. 1704 in the House and S. 1934 in the Senate, currently has 114 House co-sponsors and 37 Senate sponsors.

Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Joe Biden (D-DE), and Sam Brownback (R-KS), chief sponsors of the Second Chance Act, worked to get the legislation passed through the Senate under a unanimous consent (UC) agreement before the Congress was scheduled to adjourn this week.  However, according to Senate rules, if even one Senator objects to a UC, the legislation cannot be moved forward in this way.  When the legislation’s sponsors attempted to move the Second Chance Act through the Senate this week, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) placed a hold on the bill preventing it from moving forward.  Senator Coburn has expressed a number of concerns with the Second Chance Act; he has argued that the federal government shouldn’t play a role in reentry of individuals from the criminal justice system back to the community and that adequate funding for reentry already exists in the States.  Despite repeated attempts to work with Senator Coburn to address his concerns, the hold was placed, preventing the Second Chance Act from moving forward in the 109th Congress.

Sponsors of the Second Chance Act in both the House and Senate plan to reintroduce the legislation in the upcoming 110th Congress.  The text of both H.R. 1704 and S. 1934 can be found at: 

Update on the Mid-Term Election Results: Democrats Will Lead Both Chambers of Congress in the Upcoming 110th Congress

The results of the November 7th mid-term election have brought a number of significant changes to the membership and leadership of Congress.  Below is a summary of the outcomes for the House and the Senate, with a discussion of key changes in leadership and Committee makeup. 

The House of Representatives

Democrats gained control of the House during the mid-term elections and will be the majority party during the 110th Congress.  Democrats have won 231 seats and Republicans have captured 204 seats; 218 seats were needed for a majority. 

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been unanimously selected by House Democrats to serve as Speaker of the House; despite Congresswoman Pelosi’s support for Representative John Murtha (D-PA) for the second-in-command position of House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has been selected for that position.  Other members who will serve in the Democratic House leadership include Congressman Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) and Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC).

House Republicans have also selected their leadership team for the 110th Congress.  Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), who has served as Majority Leader during the 109th Congress, was chosen to serve as House Minority Leader, the top Republican position in the 110th Congress.  Congressman Boehner defeated Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), a member of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee, in the contest for Minority Leader.  Additional members of the House Republican leadership include Congressmen Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Adam Putnam (R-FL). 

A number of the incoming House Democrats are moderate to conservative Democrats.  The Blue Dog Coalition, comprised of centrist to conservative Democrats, is expected to now be the largest caucus in the House, with 44 members.  In addition, a number of the House Republicans who lost their seats in the mid-term election were moderate Republicans—many of the remaining Republicans are conservative Republicans, which could further complicate the dynamics between the House Democrats and Republicans.

The Senate

Democrats will also lead the Senate; although Democrats and Republicans have gained control of 49 seats each, two Independents, Senators Joe Lieberman (CT) and Bernie Sanders (VT), have expressed their intention of caucusing with Democrats, thereby giving Democrats a 51 to 49 margin in the Senate.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) was selected by Senate Democrats to serve as Majority Leader.  Additional Democrats serving in the leadership include: Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). 

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will lead the Senate Republicans as Minority Leader.  Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) was chosen to serve as Minority Whip, after a close contest with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  Additional Republicans serving in the Senate leadership are: Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Ensign (R-NV), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). 

Congressional Committees Following the Mid-Term Election

The change to committee leadership and membership after the mid-term elections is significant.  Democrats will not only hold more seats on each House and Senate committee, but they will chair the full and subcommittees and determine which pieces of legislation move through their committees (and, conversely, which legislation will not move forward in the legislative process.)  In addition, Democrats will determine which topics to hold hearings on and will be able to hire additional staff to work on their legislative priorities.  However, although Democrats will have the majority, there will not be a great difference between the number of Democrats and Republicans serving on each Committee.  Most Senate Committees, for example, will have a ratio of 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Although preliminary discussions about committee assignments and leadership are taking place, the final committee assignments, especially in the House, will likely not be known for a number of weeks.

House Appropriations Committee:

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are responsible for deciding the amount of money federal programs get each year, including programs in the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services.  Rep. David Obey (D-WI) is slated to become chair of the full House Appropriations Committee; in addition, since Congressman Obey was ranking member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program and the drug and alcohol research institutes, it is also likely that he will decide to chair that Subcommittee.  Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) will serve as the full Committee’s Ranking Member in the 110th Congress. 

Senate Appropriations Committee:

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) will chair the full Senate Appropriations Committee.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is slated to chair the Senate Labor HHS Appropriations Subcommittee.  Although there has been some discussion that Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), current chair of the Labor HHS Appropriations Subcommittee who is in line to become the Subcommittee’s top Republican in the 110th Congress, would move to another Subcommittee, it is likely that Senator Specter will stay with the Subcommittee and serve as Ranking Member.  Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) will be rejoining the Appropriations Committee; Senator Reed was previously on the Committee but had to give up his seat in 2003 when the Republicans gained the majority in the Senate, and Senator Lautenberg was an appropriator for a number of years before he retired from Congress in 2000.  Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), slated to become Majority Leader of the Senate, has given up his seat on the Appropriations Committee. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) will also be joining the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees:

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have jurisdiction over a number of criminal justice-related issues including sentencing, parole and pardons, prisons, criminal law enforcement, and drug enforcement. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) will chair the full House Judiciary Committee.  Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) will serve as that Committee’s Ranking Member.  A number of additional Democratic members will likely be assigned to the Committee; Committee assignments are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will lead the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) is slated to serve as the Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member.  Newly elected Senators-elect Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will also be joining the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee

The House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate HELP Committee have jurisdiction over a number of programs related to education and employment including the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program, and federal student assistance programs.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee will be chaired by Congressman George Miller (D-CA).  Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), who currently chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee, will serve as Ranking Member to the Committee in the 110th Congress.  Congressman Miller has expressed that the Committee will begin the upcoming session by working to raise the minimum wage and reduce student loan interest rates.  A number of additional Democratic members are expected to be added to the Committee for the upcoming 110th Congress.

The Senate HELP Committee will be chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).  Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) will join the HELP Committee in the 110th Congress; in addition, Senator-elect Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator-elect Bernie Sanders (D-VT) will become members of the Committee.  Senator Kennedy has indicated that his priorities for the Committee’s work during the upcoming 110th Congress will be to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, to expand federal funding for stem cell research and to pass health information technology legislation. In addition, Senator Kennedy has indicated that expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover all children and working on higher education reauthorization legislation that increases student Pell grants and cuts student loan interest rates are also top priorities.

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