WASHINGTON - The Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives and Republican-led Senate are set to take key votes this week on reforms to the nation’s police system, with the two chambers agreeing on several major proposals but still not entirely in agreement on what should change.
The push for legislation came after the death in police custody of African American George Floyd, the impetus for nationwide and worldwide protests of racism and the use of force by law enforcement officers.
A key divide between the Democratic and Republican proposals is on the issue of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that makes it more difficult for people to file lawsuits against police officers when they feel their civil rights have been violated.
Democrats want to end qualified immunity, but Republican leaders have opposed doing so and the White House has labeled the issue a “non-starter” for President Donald Trump.
“The Democrat House wants to pass a Bill this week that will destroy our police,” Trump tweeted late Sunday. “Republican Congressmen & Congresswomen will hopefully fight hard to defeat it. We must protect and cherish our police, they keep us safe!”
Congresswoman Karen Bass responded with her own tweet saying: “Our bill sets national standards for policing, provides additional training, and creates a registry so that fired officers aren’t rehired. Many departments are in favor of the bill but you clearly don’t understand it – try reading it this evening or have somebody read it to you.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure last week, setting up the vote in the full House this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to bring the Senate bill up for a procedural vote this week as well.
Both measures support increasing the use of police body cameras, making lynching a federal crime, boosting training for officers, and increasing the amount of data that departments collect.
Senator Tim Scott, who is leading the Republican effort in the Senate, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” show that the two sides agree on 70% of what is needed.
He highlighted one provision in the Republican measure, increasing penalties for police officers who file false reports, which is not part of the Democratic proposals.
“The false police report has an enhanced penalty on top of the SBI, serious bodily injury, or death that leads to prosecution,” Scott said. “So, it's really important for us to bring more emphasis on character-driven law enforcement. If we miss that, we miss the entire boat.”