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Judic Moves HR 3245 in Big Step to End 23 Years of Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

By Lauren Victoria Burke, Crew of 42 Blog

A Cecil B. deMille flik had less behind the scenes drama than this House Judiciary markup featuring HR 3245 to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. HR 3245 is a simplified version of HR 1459 and co-sponsors included members who had offered like-minded bills, including Reps. Jackson Lee, Waters, and Rangel. HR 3245, by Rep. Bobby Scott, simply equalizes the sentencing between crack and powder cocaine and would end 23 years of disparate punishment. Straightforward. Uncomplicated. But then came word Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was thinking of offering 10 -- that's right TEN -- amendments to the Scott bill. This reporter waited for her outside the hearing room before the hearing to ask what was up. Her answer: "I'm in contemplation..."

SJL's "kingpin" bill, HR 265, has 53 co-sponsors. It's no surprise she may have felt as if her bill had more support and wanted to add amendments featured in her legislation. With papers flying and documents being passed back and forth from her staffer to the clerks table, she appeared ready to blow up the Scott bill and a chance to fix a 23 year old mistake. No long time serving member I've spoken with can recall such a bill being voted out during their time in Congress.

An incredibly well timed set of three votes on the House floor allowed for a 20-minute conversation between SJL and Rep. Scott during votes. This was followed by her attempting to locate Chairman Conyers in the Speaker's Lobby which was then followed by another chat between her and advocates on the issue upon her return to 2141 Rayburn. One of those rounds of talks apparently did the trick. Though she communicated otherwise minutes beforehand, she didn't offer any amendments to the Scott bill. She did contribute a cryptic and pointed request of her desire to work closely and "collegially" together in the future with Rep. Scott. One has to wonder at this point what her issue was but the bottom line is HR 3245 passed and was reported out of the committee by a vote of 16 to 9 -- and voted out clean. Who needs the Republicans?

The Obama Administration, led by AG Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer have repeatedly made it crystal clear in every speech and committee appearance on the issue that they want the law changed to 1:1. Senate Judic. Chairman Pat Leahy had breakfast w AG Holder Wednesday and the topic came up. This thing is fast-track city. What Sheila Jackson Lee's specific issue was remains unclear -- but get ready for it to surface in some form again.

Reprinted photos and text appear here by permission from Lauren Victoria Burke, a self-described "freelance writer/photographer workaholic political junkie," posted July 29, 2009 at

Victoria Burke has been covering Capitol Hill since 1999 and has worked for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, ABC News, USA, Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Hill newspaper, and has covered 9 political conventions. She also owns WDCPIX.COM photo service. You can contact her at

What is the "Crew of 42" Blog?

Many of our incarcerated members may not know about 'blogs.' Short for 'web log,' this electronic form of communication is a shared online journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies.

Lauren Victoria Burke describes this reprinted blog (located online at as following "the march of legislation brought forth by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in the 111th Congress at the dawn of the Obama era. No group of 42 individuals thinks and acts as a monolith and this blog will effortlessly place a spotlight on that. The CBC is a vibrant example of individuals forging ahead singularly while occasionally unifying as a group when the politics require. This is a blunt and lively group of politicians and therefore fun to cover. Further, the current membership covers the post WWII era and moves through the post Civil Rights movement. The group originated in 1971 with 13 members. They now have 4 full committee Chairs, a membership of 42 and the advantage of having their party in control of the House, the Senate and the White House.

Two friends of mine and I were going over the general way in which the press covers the CBC and its members. I came to the conclusion that stories often break down to one of three themes:

1. CBC angry.

2. CBC forms roving gang and wants something.

3. CBC in disarray.

Though subjects may lapse into one of the three trivia-driven categories above, the focus will be on legislative work. This blog has no official affiliation with the Congressional Black Caucus or any individual member therein."