Skip to content

Kaine Joins Colleagues in Introducing Bipartisan Bill to Lower Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Certain Nonviolent Drug Offenses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in introducing the Smarter Sentencing Act, bipartisan legislation to modernize federal drug sentencing policies by lowering mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses. The bill would provide federal judges with more flexibility to determine penalties for nonviolent offenses, allowing judges flexibility to apply the harshest penalties where circumstances warrant or to moderate sentences based on individual circumstances. This approach would make sentencing more proportionate to the offense. The bill does not lower any maximum sentence.

“It’s time to get smarter about sentencing and focus our resources on individuals who pose the greatest public safety risks,” said Kaine. “This bipartisan bill would be a much-needed update to our one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing. Ensuring that federal judges can consider individual circumstances when determining sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses will reduce overcrowding in our federal prisons, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and help nonviolent former drug users to re-enter their communities – all without harming public safety.”

Mandatory minimums have contributed to mass incarceration by imposing the same lengthy sentences for many nonviolent drug offenses. Overcrowding in federal prisons has placed the safety of correctional officers and inmates at risk. Mass incarceration is also costly to taxpayers; incarceration and detention costs account for nearly a third of the Department of Justice’s discretionary budget, diverting needed resources away from critical law enforcement and crime prevention programs.

Several important reforms from the Smarter Sentencing Act, which was first introduced in 2013, were included in the landmark First Step Act, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation Kaine helped pass and enact into law in 2018. The central remaining sentencing reform in the legislation is reducing mandatory minimum penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses.

In addition to Kaine, Durbin, and Lee, the bill is also cosponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Angus King (I-ME), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

The legislation has been endorsed by Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys,, Due Process Institute, FAMM, Federal Public and Community Defenders, FreedomWorks, Justice Action Network, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Prison Fellowship, and R Street Institute.

Full text of the bill is available here. A summary of the bill is available here.