Lawmakers are making a last-ditch push to pass legislation that seeks to reduce — but not entirely erase — sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine offenses before the year is finished.
Senate Democrats are expressing optimism about chances to pass legislation aimed at significantly reducing the gap in federal sentencing disparities for the offenses as part of a larger omnibus funding package leaders are hopeful will pass next week.
“We’re making good progress on the EQUAL Act,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The Hill on late Thursday, referring to the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law act, a bill the Democratic-led House passed last year that sought to erase the disparity.
He also said lawmakers are “feeling quite good about” chances of using the omnibus, which is set to be unveiled in the coming days, as a vehicle. But the push could have a long road ahead next week amid resistance from Republicans.
Over the years, the nation has seen glaring racial disparities in how Americans convicted of crack and powder cocaine offenses are treated under the law.
Currently, an individual can be sentenced under federal law to at least five years behind bars for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine, and 10 years for possessing 5 kilograms. By contrast, individuals found to have possessed 28 grams of crack cocaine can be subjected to five-year sentences as a mandatory minimum under the same rulebook, and 10 years for 280 grams.
“So, the quantity of powder cocaine that you need to trigger a mandatory minimum is 18 times higher than the amount of crack cocaine needed to trigger the same mandatory minimum,” Liz Komar, sentencing reform counsel for The Sentencing Project, told The Hill.