If you listened to the Senate debate on the criminal justice reform (Senate Bill 70) on Thursday, some of the Republican senators had an oddly defensive tone in their speeches for a measure that has broad bipartisan support and passed 31-2.
“I’ve had good friends tell me they can’t believe I’m carrying this bill, and this is soft on crime. I disagree,” said Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth.
Sen. Ried Holien, R-Watertown, repeatedly emphasized that the measure was “tough on crime.”
SB 70 “might not be a perfect bill,” he said, urging senators to not “kill a really good bill in search of a perfect one.”
Given the overwhelming support for the criminal justice initiative in the Capitol, what’s behind that tone?
Olson said lawmakers were pitching their remarks not so much to their fellow senators, who largely agree, but at the public in general. They’ve been getting a steady stream of emails from the public, upset about various aspects of the bill, he said.
The opposition isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t appear to be the result of an organized group. Instead, it seems to be a general group of grassroots conservatives with some concerns.
It’s unlikely (but not impossible) this group of conservatives will manage to defeat SB 70, given the extremely broad support for the measure from a huge range of stakeholders. So far only a handful of the most conservative lawmakers have actually voted against it, while other outspoken conservatives have stayed on board.
But it’s a dynamic worth keeping in mind as this bill heads over to the House of Representatives.