Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulKentucky Dems look to vault themselves in deep-red district Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers target Chinese tech giants | Dems move to save top cyber post | Trump gets a new CIA chief | Ryan delays election security briefing | Twitter CEO meets lawmakers MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are' Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’ Protesters hold up 'fire him' signs behind Pruitt during hearing MORE (D-Vt.) revived legislation Wednesday designed to limit the use of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

The bill — the Justice Safety Valve Act — gives federal judges the authority to give sentences lower than the mandatory punishment in certain cases where the sentence violates standards for fair punishment laid out elsewhere in U.S. law.

That means that they would be able to deviate from the mandatory sentences for a variety of reasons, including to address any disparities in the way individuals in the same case are being sentences or if they believe that the sentence does not fit with the severity of the crime.

Currently, federal judges are bound to sentence offenders in compliance with mandatory minimum sentences for each offense — which reform advocates say has led to the unfair application of justice.

“The federal government should get out of the way, and allow local and state judges to do their jobs,” Paul said in a statement.

Under the legislation, the mandatory minimums would remain intact.

Paul has made criminal justice reforms a priority as he considers a possible White House run and looks to broaden the reach of the Republican Party to younger and minority voters.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottHouse Dems call for a vote on ObamaCare stabilization bill Top House, Senate Dems warn administration on short-term insurance Trump appointee at center of fight over religious freedom MORE (D-Va.) are sponsoring the bill's companion in the House.

A growing chorus of critics on the left and the right argue that the mandatory sentences are sending people to prison who are nonviolent and unlikely to prove a threat to public safety. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world.

The sentences are also higher for particular drug crimes committed more frequently by people of color, contributing to the disproportionate incarceration of black and Hispanic Americans — even though white people use other drugs at a higher rate.
 
“These sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe,” Paul said.

Advocates also praised the bill’s introduction — which comes amid increased discussion in the Senate of passing some form of criminal justice reform.

“This legislation puts Congress back on the path to meaningful, bipartisan sentencing reform,” said Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Julie Stewart in a statement.

The bill marks the first proposal of the new Congress to address mandatory minimums, but it remains unclear if sentencing reform will gain enough traction to clear opposition from several prominent members of the Senate Republican Conference.

Later this year, it is likely that a bill will be reintroduced to change the mandatory sentences themselves. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThis week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Kennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive How House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe MORE (R-Iowa) has expressed an openness to discussing sentencing reform in the committee but opposes the changes himself. Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Finance: House panel to take up bill toughening review of foreign deals | Trump acknowledges Cohen payment on disclosure form | Officials set for new round of China trade talks Groups urge Senate panel to reject Trump's pick for Louisiana-based appeals court House panel will consider bill to boost foreign investment review powers next week MORE (R-Texas) has proposed a more moderate package of prison reforms but that does not alter the mandatory minimums.