Bipartisan legislation introduced last year by Idaho 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador and a bipartisan group of senators and representatives aimed at relaxing harsh 1980s-era federal drug sentencing laws is gaining support in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post editorialized strongly in favor of the measure today, and Labrador reported today that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, endorsed the bill today in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
The measure already is backed by a diverse array of groups ranging from Heritage Action to the ACLU to the American Correctional Association and the NAACP. It would give federal judges more discretion on how they sentence drug offenders who otherwise would be subject to mandatory minimum sentences; and allow inmates already serving the harsh sentences to petition for reductions.
Today’s Washington Post editorial said under current laws, a defendant convicted of possessing just 10 grams of certain drugs who has one prior felony drug offense must receive at least 20 years in prison. “The drug war’s foremost legacy is a skyrocketing prison population,” the Post wrote. It touted both Labrador’s bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and a second measure on prisoner reintegration and recidivism reduction; sponsors of the two are considering combining them. Either way, “both bills should pass,” the Post wrote.
Labrador and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., introduced the sentencing bill last October; it is companion legislation to a Senate measure sponsored by a bipartisan group including Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “We must be strict, but also smart, when it comes to federal criminal sentencing,” Labrador said then. “The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach Congress put on the books has tied the hands of judges without improving public safety. Nearly half of the inmates filling our federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses. Many of them do not need overly harsh penalties. And yet judges are forced to impose these penalties, even if they don’t want to.”
The bill, HR 3382, has 47 cosponsors; the Senate version, which already has cleared the Judiciary Committee, has 28 cosponsors.