Three Plausible Paths for JJDPA To Finally Clear Both Chambers

The House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act yesterday, something that chamber had done in the waning days of the last Congress.

The next move lies with the U.S. Senate, where one Senator, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), has kept reauthorization from getting “hotlined” into effect via unanimous consent.

Cotton, as Youth Services Insider has covered ad nauseam, is opposed to the proposed phasing out of the valid court order (VCO) exception. This was added to JJDPA in 1980 so that judges, barred by federal standards from locking up status offenders, could lock up a repeat status offender if the youth had been court-ordered to refrain from such behavior.

It’s pretty clear after a couple years here that Cotton is not going to change his mind about this, and thus there is no way this bill is passing the Senate on the hotline with the phase-out in it.

Advocates pushing the bill already know this: last year, they got behind a last-ditch attempt to pass the bill without the VCO phase-out. While the phase-out is probably the highest-profile change in the reauthorization, there are lots of other ways in which this bill updates the law. And with fiscal conservatives in charge of both chambers and the Office of Management and Budget, it is not a good time for a law to be well past its reauthorization date.

Time ran out last year on the attempt to move that Cotton-approved version back to the House. Oddly enough, time ran out partially because another Republican Senator, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), held the bill up after the VCO phase-out was taken out.

This leaves a few ways in which JJDPA gets through Senate:

  1. The House bill is put up for a floor vote in the Senate. YSI‘s understanding has long been that this is not something Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is keen to do for a low-profile bill, so it only has a chance if some influential Republican pushed for it. If this happens, JJDPA absolutely passes, with the VCO phase-out intact.
  2. The Senate passes a version without a VCO phase-out, and the bill goes to conference. If Cotton isn’t on that conference, decent chance phase-out makes a final version.
  3. The Senate passes a version without the VCO phase-out, sends that back to the House. If the House juvenile justice leaders can live with that, advocates will just have to find another way, at another time, to push for the phase-out.

And this is all before you get to the question: Would Donald Trump sign the reauthorization bill? It would be a weird bill to make his first veto, since pretty much everyone supports it. But that “pretty much everyone” does not include his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who as a senator pushed back against JJDPA reauthorization efforts as a member of the Judiciary Committee.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.