Senate Republicans unveiled a 106-page police reform bill that tries to dissuade law enforcement from tactics such as chokeholds, but it does not impose an outright ban.
That is a contrast to sweeping legislation proposed by Democrats in the House.
The GOP bill would withhold federal grant funding from law enforcement agencies that allow such tactics. The law enforcement agency would have to have a policy in place that “prohibits the use of chokeholds except when deadly force is authorized.” It also imposes new reporting requirements for no-knock warrants and increases penalties for false police reports.
Even with the differences, the fact that both chambers of Congress are putting forward such legislation shows how much more of a priority police reform has become since the death of George Floyd triggered nationwide protests.
“Too often we are having a discussion in this nation about, are you supporting the law enforcement community or are you supporting communities of color,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who has led Republicans in crafting the bill. “This is a false, binary choice. The answer to the question of which side you support, it is ‘I support America.’ And if you support America, you support restoring the confidence that communities of color have in institutions of authority.”
The GOP bill also would make lynching a federal hate crime and promote the use of body cameras, among other measures. It also would require jurisdictions to report to the FBI instances where an officer has discharged a weapon or used force, and it also provides funding for law enforcement to be trained in de-escalation practices. A commission would be established to study challenges facing African-American men and youth, as well as the broader criminal justice system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that the legislation, called the Justice Act, would come to the floor next week.
“Senator Scott has led the construction of a strong proposal that will increase transparency, grow accountability and advance the cause of police reform without lashing out at the lion’s share of brave law enforcement officers who serve bravely and well,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
The House Judiciary Committee is likely to advance Democrats’ legislation on Wednesday, with a vote on the floor next week. The House bill also goes farther than the Senate legislation by making it easier for plaintiffs to obtain damages from jurisdictions in cases of police misconduct.
Later in a press conference with GOP Senate leaders, Scott weighed in on whether there is systemic racism in the country.
He said that the “fact that some people enjoy talking about systemic racism, the fact that some people want to define everything from a racism, racist perspective. And we don’t spend time on the definition of the word and we spend time on the definition of the problem, when there is an overlap of 70, 75 percent when you start, you are in the right place. So I don’t know how to tell people that the nation is not racist. I’ll try again, we are not a racist country. We deal racism because there is racism in the country. They are both true, not mutually exclusive.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the GOP legislation was insufficient.
“House Democrats hope to work in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that creates meaningful change to end the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality in America,” she said in a statement. “The Senate proposal of studies and reporting without transparency and accountability is inadequate. The Senate’s so-called Justice Act is not action.”
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