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Rep. Van Taylor cosponsors bill that gives more clemency to non-violent drug offenders



PLANO, TX – Rep. Van Taylor, a Republican from Plano, cosponsored bipartisan legislation aimed at providing clemency to non-violent drug offenders on Tuesday.

The bill, the Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act, has a specific mechanism of action in amending a statute in the Federal First Offender Act that only allows judges to expunge non-violent drug convictions for defendants under the age of 21. Under this proposed legislation, judges would be able to expunge drug convictions for non-violent offenders of any age.

“A lot of times, people look at Washington and say, ‘Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything.’ Well actually, I don’t think that’s true. Rep. [Hakeem] Jeffries [D-New York] and I can agree on this,” Taylor said. “It’s interesting how many of the reforms that we’re attempting here in Washington have already been done in Texas.”

The intent of the Begin Again Act, Taylor said, “is to help people who have served their time to not have a life sentence; to be able to go on into the next step in their life and to incentivize them not to commit another crime and to allow them to go on with the rest of their life and to live their life to the fullest.”

Legislation of this sort comes amid an era where policymakers have shifted focus from the “tough on crime” paradigm of the 1980s to reforms that are instead aimed at rehabilitating drug offenders and breaking the cycle of criminal recidivism that often comes with incarceration. One of the most significant earmarks of this was the First Step Act of 2018, which amends the Controlled Substances Act with a provision that, among other things, reduced mandatory minimum sentences for second and third drug offenses and placed restrictions on sentence enhancements.

“[The Begin Again Act] really grew out of a conversation that Hakeem and I had because he was one of the leaders in the First Step Act,” Taylor said.

While the bill is considerably narrow in scope, Taylor said he and Jeffries are working on a more encompassing bill that was initially stymied due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation does not have a name yet.

“It has a big coalition of supporters. It’s the same coalition of people that helped get the First Step Act,” Taylor explained.

Until this legislation comes, Taylor contended that the Begin Again Act is an incremental step in the right direction.

“It’s a very narrow set of people, but of course, to the people it affects, it’s enormous,” he said. “It’s a huge deal. To get your federal conviction sealed is a life-changing experience.”