Bipartisan bill would ease drug sentences

Bipartisan bill would ease drug sentences
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to give judges more discretion in sentencing non-violent drug offenders. 

The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, led by Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi MORE (R-Utah), aims to reduce the size of the prison population, which has increased by more than 500 percent since the 1980s.

The bill does not eliminate mandatory sentencing or decrease any maximum penalties. It instead, the bill expands the federal “safety valve,” which allows judges to lower sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums. 

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Lee said while the government has done a good job of punishing and deterring crime in this country, the federal prison system has become unwieldy.

“A lot of people like to refer to the fact that it costs $20,000 a year in this country to put a person in a minimum security prison, but that, in my opinion, is not the most significant cost,” he said. “The most significant cost is the human one.”

He referenced a woman from Utah whose brother was sentenced to 55 years for a first-time drug offense as an example of a sentence that's clogging up the system.

Sponsors teh bill incluse Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinBrzezinski apologizes after backlash over homophobic remark about Pompeo Dems demand Pompeo brief Congress on whether he discussed Assange with Ecuadorian official McConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill MORE (D-Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyShutdown would affect 800K federal workers, Senate Dems say Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown Senators dumbfounded by Trump vow to shut down government MORE (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Biden to discuss 2020 bid with family over holidays: report Julián Castro launches exploratory committee for possible 2020 White House bid MORE (R-Texas).

“We need to recognize young people make mistakes,” said Cruz. “We should not live in a world of ‘Les Misérables’ where a young man finds his entire future taken away by excessive mandatory minimums.” 

Because Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTop security officials issue stark warning of Chinese espionage efforts Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act The Hill's Morning Report — Takeaways from the battle royal in the Oval Office MORE (R-Iowa) has already voiced opposition to this bill, Lee said proponents of the bill are prepared to look for other legislative avenues for the measure.

“We’re not giving up on anybody, even Chuck Grassley,” Durbin said.