Senate, House set to tackle police reform with comprehensive proposals

Both chambers of Congress are set to tackle police reform Wednesday, as Senate Republicans prepare to unveil a bill and the House Judiciary Committee gets ready to work on a proposal of its own.

First, Senate GOP members led by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., will roll out the JUSTICE Act — Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020 – a response to incidents including the death of George Floyd which includes changes to police procedures and accountability with an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds and new commissions to study law enforcement and race.

To focus on ending chokeholds, the bill threatens to strip federal funds from agencies that do not do away with the practice. It also provides funding for training to “de-escalate” situations and establish a “duty to intervene” protocol to prevent excessive force.

The JUSTICE Act also includes a provision that would make lynching a federal hate crime and would call for a study on the social status of black males that has been supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A vote on the bill could come next week, but Senate Democrats have already pushed back against the bill before even seeing a final version.

“The moment does not call for cherry-picking one or two things to do; it calls for bold, broad change–whole-scale reform, not piecemeal reform,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week. “I know the inclination of some of my Senate colleagues would be to cherry-pick a few small improvements and say the job is done. It will not be.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., told Politico that she predicts the GOP bill will be insufficient.

“I don’t think they’re going to propose anything that comes anywhere near enough to what we need to do. We need systemic change,” Duckworth said. “If they propose systemic change then I’m fully supportive of it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more cosmetic.”

Senate Democrats are backing the Justice and Policing Act that’s introduced in the House and spearheaded by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.Y., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. That legislation would lower the bar for police officers to face criminal prosecution by allowing charges not just in cases where alleged misconduct was intentional, but also in cases of reckless misconduct. It would also ban chokeholds, create a national database of cops who committed misconduct and boost police training.

A House version of the bill introduced by Congressional Black Caucus leader Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., will be the subject of a House Judiciary Committee markup Wednesday morning. That bill focuses on increasing police accountability in terms of legal action, collecting use of force and police misconduct data to provide greater transparency, and reforming police policies and training through measures including body camera requirements and the elimination of racial profiling.

Wednesday’s activities come a day after President Trump signed an executive order addressing police conduct. Trump’s order touches on use of force best practices, information sharing to track officers who have repeated complaints against them, and federal incentives for police departments to deploy non-police experts on issues like mental health, homelessness and addiction.

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