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U.S. Sen. Paul advocates economic, criminal justice reform at Bowie State

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican presidential hopeful, drew ovations during his one-hour speech Friday at Bowie State University, but one idea drew especially loud applause.

The Kentucky lawmaker proposed giving Baltimore $900 million in tax cuts over 10 years.

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To stimulate economies in big cities and rural areas, Rand said, substantial federal tax cuts would generate revenue and foster what he referred to as "economic freedom zones."

"Even though Baltimore has pockets of poverty, there are businesses there that are succeeding," said Paul. "You don't want to give it to the brand-new person, where you don't know what they're going to do with the business. Give it to the person already in business, and they'll hire more people."

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The event presented by the school's Commuter Student Association drew about 150 people and was billed as a discussion of criminal justice reform. But the senator touched on many topics, including achieving equality in public schools and in local economies with less input from Washington.

At the historically black college, Paul stressed tackling such problems as the nation's racial divide by targeting poverty and upholding the Bill of Rights.

"We have to look at something new. We've tried passing money out," Paul said.

He said the nation needs criminal justice reform, including a bill he co-sponsored that would restore federal voting rights for those who have served time for nonviolent felonies.

"It's hard for people to feel part of the America that has life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if they can't vote," Paul said.

"Criminal justice, or the lack of criminal justice, is not a black or white problem. It's not a black or brown problem," Paul said. "It's a poverty problem. And the thing is, we have to be careful that the Bill of Rights applies to every individual."

Paul, a member of the Republican Party's conservative wing, has focused on criminal justice as a way to appeal to moderate and liberal voters. He came under fire several years ago for comments about the Civil Rights Act, which he said represented an unacceptable intrusion by the federal government into private business.

Shane McCarthy of Severna Park, who graduated from Bowie State last year, praised the senator for addressing the nation's divisions.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele also was impressed with Paul's message.

"It's something that's particularly important to minority students, the minority community as a whole," said Steele, a Republican who also attended the event. "To hear a potential presidential candidate talk about that in a very personal way and a very direct way was very refreshing," Steele said.

Bowie State freshman Terry Robinson of Baltimore said he came away from the event impressed.

"He has great expectations for America. He had a lot of positive things to say," Robinson said.

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