Senate Republicans Team With Democrats In Another Push For Soft Sentencing

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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Republican and Democrat senators are continuing a push for sentencing reform Tuesday with a pair of bills that would lower sentencing across the board for federal crimes.

Five Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, introduced the Mens Rea Reform Act Monday, which would prevent the government from convicting someone of a federal crime without proving they committed the crime “knowingly and willfully.” GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois also plan to introduce legislation this week that would prompt a review of federal sentencing standards for nonviolent drug offenders, Axios reported Tuesday.

“I’m proud to join Sen. Hatch in addressing one of the biggest flaws in our modern criminal justice system,” Cruz said. “Currently, the federal government can send men and women to prison without demonstrating criminal intent. As Congress works to address criminal justice reform, the Mens Rea Reform Act needs to be enacted to protect the rights of all Americans.”

Of the Republican senators, Paul has the longest history of working toward bipartisan justice reform, teaming up with Democrat Sen. Kamala Harris of California to push bail reform legislation in September.

This is the second time Republicans in Congress have introduced “mens rea” reform, presenting a similar bill in 2015 that never made it out of committee.

With Democratic lawmakers also pushing sentencing reform, this week is the most recent example of bipartisan justice reform at the federal level. The issue has already been widely bipartisan on the state level throughout President Barack Obama’s administration.

The country’s highest-ever incarceration rates cost taxpayers tens of billions every year. This is a huge reform incentive for Republicans, and the prospect of getting non-violent, first-time drug offenders out of prison drew Democrat support as well.

It was only with the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that cooperation began to falter, with some Republicans reverting toward Sessions’ “tough-on-crime” policies. (RELATED: Sessions Alone Pushing ‘Tough On Crime’ Policy In Country Ready For Reform)

GOP Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Paul have been extremely forward with a rejection of Sessions’ policy, writing a letter with Democrat Senators Durbin and Cory Booker of New Jersey in June, calling on the attorney general to back off his push for higher mandatory minimum sentences.

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