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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 LeeLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight 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 DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Durbin seeks to become top-ranking Democrat on Judiciary panel Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol 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 GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results 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.