These 21 House Democrats Want to End the Presumption of Innocence and Criminalize Poverty

On Thursday, House Republicans passed their latest bill that mixes redundancy and cruelty.

The Control Unlawful Fugitive Felons Act, which Rep. Mike Capuano (MA-07) described as deserving “the misleading title of the month award,” would terminate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for individuals who may have an unresolved arrest warrant relating to an alleged parole or probation issue or other offense.

The Social Security Administration already knows where such individuals are and notifies appropriate law enforcement authorities. Law enforcement also already knows where they are and have chosen not to pursue them.

They are not fugitives. They have not been tried. And they have not been convicted.

The bill is a solution in search of a problem since the SSA is already banned from issuing Social Security payments to “fleeing felons.” It’s simply an effort by House Republicans to undermine basic constitutional rights relating to the presumption of innocence and inflict needless economic suffering on some of the most vulnerable residents — the old, the disabled, and the low-income.

As Representatives Danny Davis (IL-07), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), John Lewis (GA-05), and Terri Sewell (AL-07) wrote in a dissent, the bill is a shameful attempt to criminalize poverty:

The denial of due process based on accusation — rather than conviction — also criminalizes poverty. Increasingly, costs associated with the criminal justice system have escalated dramatically causing disproportionate harm to individuals with limited financial resources. No uniform threshold for a felony exists, giving states wide latitude to define offenses involving relatively low monetary values as criminal felonies. A report by the Marshall Project indicated that, although dozens of states have increased their felony thresholds since 2000 to better capture the cost of goods, 13 states have not and four of these states — Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey — have the lowest thresholds in the country defining felonies as losses of $300 or less — vastly different than the $2,500 thresholds set in Texas or Wisconsin. Additionally, individuals on probation for underlying misdemeanor offenses (e.g., vagrancy, shoplifting, traffic violations) can violate probation due to inability to pay court fees, restitution, or fines, resulting in an arrest warrant for an alleged violation of probation.

The bill passed 244 to 171.

Three Republicans voted against it: Justin Amash (MI-03), Morgan Griffith (VA-09), and Tom Massie (KY-04).

And 21 Democrats (including two Senate candidates) voted for it:

Ami Bera (CA-07)

Brendan Boyle (PA-13)

Cheri Bustos (IL-17)

Lou Correa (CA-46)

Henry Cuellar (TX-28)

Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05)

Bill Keating (MA-09)

Ron Kind (WI-03)

Dan Lipinski (IL-03)

Dave Loebsack (IA-02)

Stephen Lynch (MA-08)

Stephanie Murphy (FL-07)

Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01)

Jimmy Panetta (CA-20)

Collin Peterson (MN-07)

Jacky Rosen (NV-03)

Raul Ruiz (CA-36)

Kurt Schrader (OR-05)

Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)

Tom Suozzi (NY-03)

Eric Swalwell (CA-15)