Democratic and Republican police reform proposals are moving ahead with both the House of Representatives and Senate planning to hold votes next week.
The House Judiciary Committee gave its approval Wednesday to the plan from majority Democrats, sending to the full House a measure that would ban the use of chokeholds, limit qualified immunity for police officers to make it easier for people who feel aggrieved by police actions to sue them for damages and to end no-knock warrants in federal drug cases.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday the Republican plan would move to a procedural vote.
That legislation would require state and local governments to report to the U.S. Justice Department on the use of no-knock-warrants in police raids to capture criminal suspects. It also would limit eligibility for federal funding if police agencies do not have policies prohibiting the use of chokeholds "except when deadly force is authorized."
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Both Republicans and Democrats support creating a commission aimed at studying some of the root causes of crimes committed in minority communities.
A major point of contention in the push for action that gained urgency after the death in police custody of African American George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police use of force is whether to keep in place a doctrine that limits the ability to file civil lawsuits against police officers accused of violating someone’s civil rights.
Democrats want to eliminate such protections, called qualified immunity, while Republicans and President Donald Trump oppose the move.
"By removing qualified immunity, what you're doing is essentially not allowing police to do their job," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday. "Taking away qualified immunity would make this country much less safe."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the White House position “just wrong” and said Democrats would fight to change it.
“For someone who wants to sue everyone he believes wrongs him, President Trump doesn’t want to let American citizens sue police officers who violate their constitutional rights?” Schumer said.
McConnell said the police reform bills should be an effort that is above bipartisan squabbling, and Sen. Tim Scott, who led the crafting of the Republican measure, said addressing police reform should not be shaped by binary choices.
“Too often we're having a discussion in this nation about are you supporting the law enforcement community or are you supporting communities of color,” Scott said Wednesday. “The answer to the question of which side do you support is I support America, and if you support America, you support restoring the confidence that communities of color have in institutions of authority. If you support America, that means you know that the overwhelming number of officers in this nation want to do their job, go home to their family.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said 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,” and that the Senate Republican proposal does not go far enough.
“The Democratic proposal will fundamentally and forever transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism and put an end to shielding police from accountability,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change to save lives.”
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