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Cory Booker introduces new round of criminal justice legislation

Booker joins diverse field of candidates

Just months after President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan First Step Act into law, Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will introduce new legislation Thursday calling for an even broader overhaul of the nation's criminal justice system.

"The Next Step Act," co-authored by New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, would implement a series of sweeping reforms to "sentencing guidelines, prison conditions, law enforcement training, and re-entry efforts."

Booker, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has made criminal justice reform one of the defining issues of his Senate career and now his presidential campaign, calling the failings of the current system "a cancer on the soul of this country." He's also touted the passage of the First Step Act as proof of his ability to work with Republicans.

"I went to Washington and they told me we couldn't pass a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill. Well, we passed it. We reached across the aisle. I found common ground," Booker said last Friday at a town hall in South Carolina. "The last provision that I battled to get into that bill was a ban on the federal level of juvenile solitary confinement that is now the law of the land."

Criminal justice reform is an important issue to many black voters, a key Democratic constituency, and several of Booker's rivals for the Democratic nomination have also called for institutional and structural changes to the justice system.

California Sen. Kamala Harris has called the current system "a failure" that has harmed communities of color and disproportionately targeted black and latino men. Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called American incarceration rates an "international embarrassment" at a rally Sunday.

"No more private prisons and detention centers. No more 'war on drugs.' No more keeping people in jail because they're too poor to afford cash bail," Sanders said.

Booker's bill would go even further, pushing for long sought-after reforms like eliminating the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences, reducing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and reinstating the right to vote in federal elections for the formerly incarcerated.

It would also include legislation Booker reintroduced last week that would end federal prohibition of marijuana and expunge federal convictions for use and possession.

"It's been 75 days since the First Step Act was signed into law, and already, it's changing lives," Booker said in a statement. "But the First Step Act is just as its name suggests  - it is one step on the long road toward fixing our broken criminal justice system. There's more that remains to be done."