Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), co-sponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act

The Senate took an important step towards reforming the nation’s broken drug laws and fixing our out of control spending on prisons. In a bipartisan 13-5 vote the Senate Judiciary committee decided to send the Smarter Sentencing Act to the full Senate.

The bill was spearheaded by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT). Its main provisions reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and expands federal “safety valve” rules which gives judges more freedom to set shorter sentences if deemed appropriate.

In addition, the bill allows sentences for crack-cocaine violations committed before 2010 to be scaled back. An earlier reform approved in 2010 changed the sentencing rules for crack-cocaine violations going forward but it didn’t apply retroactively. This new bill will fix that.

In large part because of mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws the United States has the largest prison population on Earth. As a result the federal government alone spends $6.4 billion a year on federal prisons.

This bill now moves to the full Senate where its chances of being approved appear good given significant support from several prominent Republicans.