US police reform on the brink as key Democrats deal a blow to Senate Republican proposal
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 16: U.S. Sens.Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) attend a Justice Committee hearing held in the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington, DC on June 16, 2020 first hearing on policing since George Floyd's death when he was in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool / Getty Images)
The Democratic Senate's bell towers on police reform have put down the gauntlet and have announced that they will oppose the republican majority proposed legislation for a procedural vote on Wednesday.
"This bill cannot be saved and we need bipartisan talks to come to a constructive starting point," wrote Senate Minority President Chuck Schumer and Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch on Tuesday McConnell.
Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris, the only two black Senate Democrats, have cast leading voices in criminal justice and police reform after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and other blacks who have done so died this summer in clashes with the police.
Their decision to oppose the GOP law proposed by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only other black senator and the only black senator in the GOP, is a strong indicator that other Chamber Democrats will also vote in favor, to torpedo the law.
Although the Republicans control the Senate, they need 60 votes to block a Filibuster and postpone the bill. This means that seven Democrats or democratically motivated independents must vote with Republicans to keep the bill alive.
Mr. McConnell has needled his democratic counterparts and accused them of partisan artistry in order to block what he considers a good starting point for negotiations.
"I hope that any strange political calculations that make this difficult for our friends on the other side of the aisle will give way to common sense and the progress of the American people after progress," said the majority leader on Monday.
Bipartisan cooperation to integrate the Scottish law, known as the JUSTICE Act, into the debate and change process, seems less and less likely.
"We will not meet this moment by voting on the JUSTICE LAW, nor can we simply change this bill, which is so worn and insufficient in content that it does not even provide an adequate basis for negotiation," said Booker, Ms. Harris and Mr. Schumer wrote to Mr. McConnell on Tuesday.
The main concern of the Senate Democrats is that Mr. Scott's bill does not reform the criminal or civil liability of police authorities when officials use violent or fatal violence against people.
"It is imperative that any sensible police reform includes accountability provisions to ensure that nobody, including law enforcement officers, is above the law - and the JUSTICE Act is doing nothing to meet these urgent needs," wrote the Democratic Senators.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are expected to vote this week on their own police reform laws, which Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris have also introduced.
This legislation would reform "Qualified Immunity Laws" to make it easier to sue the police and other government agencies for misconduct, a proposal that the Trump administration has dismissed as non-negotiable. The Democrats 'bill would also change the language of section 242 of Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code to facilitate law enforcement officers' misconduct.
At the national level, it would ban choke holds and no-knock warrants in drug cases, while encouraging government and local agencies to introduce similar restrictions to obtain federal funding. And it would create a national database of police misconduct so that problematic officials cannot simply move to another part of the state or country and, among other things, get a new police job.
The Senate Republican bill also tries to curb suffocation by withholding funds for non-restrictive departments. However, these restrictions are more narrowly defined than those in the House Democrats' bill.
Republican law would not prohibit no-knock warrants, but it would force law enforcement agencies to report their use of no-knock warrants for oversight and transparency.
Despite the frosty rhetoric in both parties, the Democratic and GOP bills overlap on many issues, sparking hope of a rare legislative compromise in a highly controversial presidential election year.
Both bills include:
an anti-lynch measure to protect minorities from hate crimes;
Provisions that encourage or instruct local law enforcement agencies to report incidents of violence to a nationally centralized database in the Department of Justice; and
Incentives for de-escalation and racial bias training.
An implementing regulation signed by Mr. Trump this week calls on the DOJ to create a national database to track documented misconduct by officials, a provision set out in the Democrats' bill.
Mr. Booker, Ms. Harris, and Mr. Schumer ended their letter on Tuesday asking Mr. McConnell to submit "sensible laws" for voting.
"This is a serious challenge that requires serious solutions. Bringing the law on justice to the Senate is an absolutely inadequate answer," wrote the senators.
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