“#House Democrats pass police reform bill that will likely be blocked by Senate”
June 25, 2020 | 8:59pm
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a news conference ahead of the House vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
The Justice in Policing Act passed 236-181 over Republican warnings that the bill won’t pass the Senate or reach President Trump’s desk. Three Republicans and all Democrats voted in favor.
“Half measures are not enough. Pretend sham measures are not enough,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill would restrict chokeholds and ban federal agents from conducting no-knock drug raids. It would curtail transfers of military equipment to police, create an officer misconduct registry, end qualified immunity from lawsuits and lower the threshold to federally prosecute officers if they show “reckless disregard” for someone’s life.
A competing Republican proposal written by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) was blocked from a vote by Senate Democrats on Wednesday and Democrats blocked GOP amendments to the House bill in committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said “it would be a moral failure to accept anything less than transformational change.”
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that Pelosi “has been all politics, putting us on a course for failure.”
With different parties leading the House and Senate, successful legislation generally is negotiated between party leaders.
Republican opposition centered largely on elimination of qualified immunity, though some conservatives support the idea. The GOP Senate plan also would not bar the transfer of military equipment and its misconduct registry would not be public.
Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former sheriff, defended qualified immunity, saying it doesn’t apply for blatant misconduct and protects cops from ruinous lawsuits.
“Most people in this room have no idea what it’s like to determine in a high-stress situation whether a suspect is pulling out a gun or a cellphone,” Rutherford said. “Police officers don’t get to watch a slow motion video over and over again to figure out what to do. That’s why qualified immunity exists.”
The Senate Republican bill would incentivize departments to restrict chokeholds, purchase and use body-worn cameras and keep information on use-of-force incidents and no-knock raids. It would make lynching a federal crime, create a commission to study conditions of black men and boys and fund black police officer recruitment.
Multiple House Republicans took aim at Democrats on Thursday for not attempting to reduce the power of police unions to shield problematic officers from being fired.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), the lone Republican co-sponsor of a bill to end qualified immunity, said he opposed the Democratic bill for its “attempt to federalize local police” and said it glaringly “ignores the most serious problem we face: the protection of bad cops by collective bargaining agreements that make it all-but impossible to fire them.”
African-American Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said “we have failed to do one simple thing: empower police chiefs to permanently fire bad cops.”
Hurd said he wished Democrats worked with Republicans to find consensus, as happened with coronavirus relief bills this year. “Today we are missing an opportunity to pass an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill,” he said. “We are missing an opportunity to do our part to prevent another black person from dying in police custody.”
Democrats, meanwhile, took turns praising the bill.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a former Orlando police chief under consideration to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, said good police officers “need us to help them improve the profession.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) trashed the Republican Senate bill as having “about as much teeth as a newborn baby.”
Amid congressional gridlock, Trump last week signed an executive order to create a national system for tracking police misconduct, encourage departments to send social workers on some nonviolent police calls and incentivize officer training programs that teach a ban on chokeholds in most instances.
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