WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House passed sweeping police reform legislation largely along party lines Thursday evening.
The Democratic-led bill, known as the Justice in Policing Act, is named after George Floyd, the African-American man killed in Minneapolis, Minn. police custody last month. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests and a renewed bipartisan push in Washington for national police reform legislation. The bill passed 236-181 with only a handful of Republicans supporting the measure.
The Justice in Policing Act calls for outright bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants by police. Democrats also want to end qualified immunity, a legal doctrine preventing Americans from suing police departments if they feel their civil rights have been violated.
The bill would also limit the transfer of military grade equipment to local police departments, among other changes.
“This legislation contains bold, unprecedented reforms, including banning chokeholds,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “People say, ‘Well, why can’t you compromise with the other side?’ Well, they don’t ban chokeholds. We ban chokeholds.”
Republicans have been largely against the measure largely due to the qualified immunity provision, arguing it inhibits law enforcement from doing their job for fear of a lawsuit. Locally, Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Fred Keller (R-Pa.) each say the bill goes too far in some areas.
“We have to do what we have to do in order to go after the bad actors,” Reed said. “But, make sure we stand with law enforcement. The vast majority of law enforcement are good and honest people that want to do the right thing.”
“We all agree that we need transparency, training, and accountability. That accountability would be able to get rid out bad actors that are there,” Keller said. “But I want to say this: by and large, the people that are police officers and public safety officers are outstanding people.”
The Floyd bill is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, where on Wednesday Senate Democrats blocked debate in a 55-45 vote on the Republican-led police reform proposal. Sixty votes were needed to begin debate, essentially creating a stalemate on between the two parties on the issue for the moment.
There are some significant differences between the Democratic and Republican proposals. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — the only Republican African-American senator, and the author of the Senate Republicans’ plan – outlined police reform legislation he says will keep Americans safe and hold officers accountable.
Republicans would use federal funding to discourage chokehold tactics, but would not ban chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants like House Democrats are proposing. Scott’s bill would require departments to submit reports related to those tactics or ban those practices to receive full federal funding. The legislation also requires law enforcement agencies to report all officer-involved deaths to the FBI.
“Today, only 40 percent of departments report that information to the FBI,” Scott said of the no-knock warrants during a June 17 news conference introducing the bill, known as the JUSTICE Act. “For us to start that conversation with banning no-knocks doesn’t sound like a solid position based on any data because we don’t have that data.”
Among other differences: the Republican proposal would ensure departments hiring an officer have access to prior disciplinary records, but does not call for a national police misconduct database. However, the Democratic bill and the executive order President Donald Trump signed this month to push for a national police misconduct database.
Some similarities between the two bills include designating lynching as a federal hate crime. Both sides are also pushing for increased body camera use, with the GOP plan providing police departments with grants.