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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 LeeOn management of Utah public lands, Biden should pursue an accountable legislative process Rubio asks MLB commissioner if he'll give up Augusta golf club membership Why some Republicans think vaccine passports will backfire on Democrats 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 DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden's job Number of migrants detained at southern border reaches 15-year high: reports Grassley, Cornyn push for Senate border hearing MORE (D-Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown | Biden hopes to boost climate spending by B | White House budget proposes .4B for environmental justice Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs Biden hopes to boost climate spending by billion MORE (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP lawmakers block Biden assistance to Palestinians Cruz on Boehner: 'I wear with pride his drunken, bloviated scorn' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyNumber of migrants detained at southern border reaches 15-year high: reports Grassley, Cornyn push for Senate border hearing The Hill's Morning Report - GOP pounces on Biden's infrastructure plan 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.