Police reform legislation has "more momentum" post Chauvin verdict
Lawmakers are looking to push forward with police reform after Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murdering George Floyd, with representatives and senators holding bipartisan discussions about next steps.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial does not mean that the problem of police misconduct and brutality has been solved.
"The Senate will continue to work — that work as we strive that George Floyd's tragic death will not be in vain. We will not rest until the Senate passes strong legislation to end the systemic bias in law enforcement," Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.
One of the co-sponsors of the House police reform bill said Tuesday that the police reform bill passed earlier this year that stalled in the Senate has "absolutely more momentum." And a key Republican senator said Tuesday that police reform is a "is a topic ripe for discussion."
The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases and reforms qualified immunity, making it easier to pursue claims against police officers in civil court, in March. But it hasn't moved in the Senate since then.
Congresswoman Karen Bass, the co-sponsor of the measure, has been participating in ongoing informal conversations with some Senate Republicans, including Tim Scott of South Carolina, who unveiled his own police reform legislation in June 2020. Bass is hopeful that the Senate will vote and pass the bill — and she'd like to see that happen by the anniversary of Floyd's death.
"This is a very positive catalyst," Bass said about the guilty verdict on Tuesday. "We picked up the momentum right after it passed on March, discussions started again," Bass said.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act looks to end racial and religious profiling, bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, requires deadly force be used only as a last resort after officers have employed de-escalation techniques first, limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to law enforcement agencies and would make it easier to hold officers accountable in court by limiting so-called qualified immunity.
Other provisions in the House bill include incentivizing state attorneys general to investigate local police departments, and providing grants for states to create procedures for investigating police-involved deaths. The legislation attempts to improve transparency by creating a National Police Misconduct Registry, and mandate state and local law enforcement turn over data on use of force broken out by race, gender, disability, religion and age. The bill further aims to address cultural biases in police stations by mandating racial bias training, and would also change the standard for evaluating whether use of force was justified.
The bill passed the House on in a party line vote and had been stalled in the Senate. Republicans argue that overhauling qualified immunity would harm law enforcement officers acting in good faith, as it would make it easier to pursue litigation against them.
Bass told reporters Wednesday that "there's a lot of room for discussion around qualified immunity" and said she hoped to have a bill in the Senate by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd's death. But she also thinks there needs to be accountability in both police departments and the unions that represent officers.
"If the agencies, the cities, if they're concerned about lawsuits they will not want to have problem officers," she told reporters. "And then you have situations like the Minneapolis Police Department, where Derek Chauvin, if he had not been convicted, even though he was fired, he could be rehired again because of the union. The union contract that they have there says that if a police chief fires an officer, that officer can go to arbitration and can be rehired again against the desire of the chief."
Scott's proposal is more modest than the one put forward by Democrats. The bill would require increased reporting of use of force by police officers and no-knock warrants. It would also provide grants for law enforcement to be equipped with body cameras and require departments to maintain and share officer disciplinary records.
The legislation focused heavily on police training, requiring the Justice Department to develop and provide guidelines for deescalating police encounters. It also would establish several commissions, including one studying the conditions affecting Black men and boys and one reviewing best practices for police departments.
On the subject of qualified immunity, Scott said Wednesday that he was having discussions with Democrats about holding police departments accountable for misconduct instead of individual officers.
"There is a way to put more of the onus or the burden on the department or on the employer than on the employee. I think that is a logical step forward, and one that as I've spoken with Karen Bass over the last several weeks, it's something that the Democrats are quite receptive to," Scott said.
Scott also said lawmakers are "on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two."
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey who has had an active role in discussions about policing reform, said Wednesday that he was "in the middle of negotiations" with other lawmakers.
"Senator Scott and I are friends, he's an honest broker. And again, I've committed to getting something done and we'll see how it all works," he told reporters.
Scott told reporters on Tuesday that he has been talking to Booker about finding a path forward—to pass the Senate it would need the votes of at least 10 Republicans.
Ahead of Tuesday's verdict, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he'd "like to take up" Scott's proposal from last year.
"Tim Scott's proposal last year, I'd like to take that back up and see if we can get some compromise or start with a Democratic version of it," he said.
Jack Turman contributed reporting.
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