CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS SPECIAL ORDER HOUR

November 30, 2015
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentlewoman from Illinois and the gentleman from New Jersey for organizing this Special Order tonight. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to organize these efforts, and I want to thank them both for the time and effort that they have put into this.

   We have heard a lot about what the Congressional Black Caucus has done over the years. There are two areas that I have been personally involved in with the CBC effort in the areas of education and criminal justice reform. On both we have worked hard and achieved bipartisan support.

   The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is a civil rights bill, makes sure that the admonition in Brown v. Board of Education becomes a reality. It says that no child shall reasonably be expected to succeed in life if denied the opportunity of an education and such an opportunity must be made available to all on equal terms. That is what the Brown decision held.

   But we know that we don't have equal education in America because we fund it primarily through the real estate tax, guaranteeing that wealthy areas will have more resources for education than low-income areas.

   So 50 years ago we passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides funding directed primarily to help the challenges in educating low-income children particularly in concentrated areas of poverty.

   No Child Left Behind a few years ago added to that by making sure that we ascertained whether or not there are achievement gaps in certain groups and requires action to be taken to solve those achievement gaps.

   This week we should reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that the needs of all children are addressed. That legislation has just come out of conference. It came out of conference with an overwhelming--almost unanimous--vote, a bipartisan vote. So we look forward to the continuation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

   Mr. Speaker, the next area that we are going to be working on is the Higher Education Act, also originally passed 50 years ago. When President Johnson signed that bill, he pointed out that every child should be able to go to any college in any State. Back then that was actually a reality because a low-income student with a maximum Pell Grant and a summer job could virtually work his way through college with no debt.

   Now, because the buying power of the Pell Grant has eroded, instead of 75 percent of the cost of education, now it is down to about one-third and the rest has to be picked up with devastating student loans. We need to pass a Higher Education Act that makes access to college a reality, not just a dream.

   We can do that, and there is bipartisan support for that effort. So in education we are making progress with the Congressional Black Caucus and we have been able to achieve bipartisan support.

   It is interesting that we have also been able to achieve bipartisan support in the criminal justice reform efforts. We have a problem in criminal justice now because, for decades, we have been passing all these slogans and sound bites, particularly, mandatory minimums that have run our incarceration rate up to number one in the world by far. We have 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent are prisoners.

   Several recent studies have pointed out that our incarceration rate is so high that it is actually counterproductive; that is, we have got so many children being raised with parents in prison and we have got so many people with felony records that can't find jobs and the prison budget in the Department of Justice is eating up so much of the budget that the other things that can actually reduce crime don't have the funds that they actually need.

   One bipartisan effort that we were able to achieve late last year was the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which requires any death in the custody of law enforcement--that is a death in jail, a death in prison, or death in the process of arrest--will be reported to the Justice Department so that the discussion about all of these deaths can be based on facts, not just speculation.

   We also are in the process of trying to pass criminal justice reform. The Judiciary Committee, in a subcommittee task force led by Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin and myself, had an overcriminalization task force. The one thing we noticed was that 30 States were able to reduce incarceration and reduce crime at the same time.

   One example was Texas. Texas was faced with a $2 billion request for prison expansion to keep up with the slogans and sound bites that they had been codifying over the years--$2 billion. Someone suggested, instead of spending $2 billion, how about trying to spend a couple of hundred million--research-based, evidence-based targeted expenditures--to actually reduce crime, and maybe they wouldn't have to spend all $2 billion.

   Well, that is what they did. They intelligently spent. With a research-based and evidence-based approach to reduce crimes, they made those expenditures and looked up. They didn't have to build any new prisons at all. In fact, they were able to close some of the prisons they had. Over 30 States have reduced crime and saved money just in using the same strategy.

   So as a result of the overcriminalization task force, we created a comprehensive criminal justice bill that starts with investments in prevention and early intervention, has diversion to drug courts so that people with drug problems can have their problems solved rather than just spinning through the criminal justice system, a significant reduction in mandatory minimums so they would be reserved for true kingpins, not for people caught up in the conspiracy, like girlfriends and things like that.

   Only the true kingpins would get the mandatory minimums. Everyone else would get a sentence that made sense. If you go to jail, then you should be rehabilitated, not just warehoused, and we should have funding for Second Chance programs.

   The beauty of the bill is that the savings in prison space by the reduction in mandatory minimums will be redirected to pay for the prevention and early intervention, the drug courts, the prison reform efforts, and the Second Chance programs so all of those programs are paid for.

   We also have significant funding for police training. As we go through the trauma of these trials that are going on as we speak in Baltimore and Chicago, when you get to a solution, it will undoubtedly involve police training and probably body cameras, and those are funded in the Safe Justice Act by diverting money from the savings in mandatory minimums to those programs. We have broad bipartisan support, many very conservative, many very liberal organizations, all supporting the Safe Justice Act and other criminal justice reform efforts. The Black Caucus should be proud of the efforts that they have put in to making sure that we have a fair and equitable criminal justice system.

   I would like to thank again the gentlewoman from Illinois for all of her hard work and the gentleman from New Jersey for his hard work in pointing out many of the good things that the Congressional Black Caucus has accomplished, many things they have accomplished this year and a lot of things we are working on for next year. So I thank you for your hard work and dedication.

   We have a conference committee report that came out with an overwhelming bipartisan vote that will ensure that young people will have their educational needs met. I want to thank the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Kline) for his hard work and cooperation on that bill.