Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' 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.
“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.
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.
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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Grassley leads Finkenauer by 18 points in hypothetical matchup: poll 62 percent in Iowa disapprove of Biden, poll shows MORE (R-Iowa) has expressed an openness to discussing sentencing reform in the committee but opposes the changes himself. Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (R-Texas) has proposed a more moderate package of prison reforms but that does not alter the mandatory minimums.