WASHINGTON— The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that he is committed to pushing his committee to approve comprehensive immigration reform and send it to the Senate floor for a vote, and promised public hearings in February.
“We must find a way through the partisan gridlock to enact meaningful change, which should include a path for citizenship,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said.
Speaking at Georgetown University Law Center about the agenda of the Judiciary Committee, the Vermont Democrat said the committee will address hot topics such as immigration reform, gun violence, government accountability and privacy.
In addition to immigration reform hearings, he promised hearings in the next two weeks on gun control.
“Like many other gun owners, I believe that we should strengthen our federal laws to combat gun trafficking and ensure that those seeking to purchase guns do so with background checks,” Leahy said, “but this is only part of what is needed.”
He said that many questions must be addressed when approaching gun safety, including how to care for those with mental illness and violence in popular media.
Leahy acknowledged that an assaults weapons ban would be unlikely to be passed by the Senate, but said that approval for improved background checks was likely.
Leahy expressed frustration with the increased use of the filibuster during the last two-year congressional session. Instead of being used to protect a strongly held minority opinion, he said it was being used to halt legislation on the basis of “the most picky, nonsensical things.”
“We are allowing people to vote maybe, not yes or no,” Leahy said. “I don’t think many congressmen feel strongly enough to stand up and tell the American public why they are opposing [an issue]. Usually their reasons do not stand the light of day.”
Two recent examples of stalled bills, he said, were those to fund bulletproof vests for first responders and to prevent sex trafficking in the U.S. He will push both this year.
Other issues the Judiciary Committee will address include privacy protections related to the use of domestic drones usage.
“[The use of domestic drones] is another example of fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans’ right to privacy,” Leahy said.
Leahy said his commitment to the issues coming before the committee led him to turn down the position of chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which became vacant with the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye.
“I am looking forward to chairing the committee because the Judiciary Committee works on many of the most compelling questions—and often the most fascinating questions—that touch the daily lives of 300 million Americans,” Leahy said.