What’s Up in DC: A Key Democrat Thinks Meaningful Police Reform Can Win Senate Approval

Karen Bass is optimistic about the prospects for meaningful federal police reform.

Representative Karen Bass says she has confidence that the George Floyd Justice in the Policing Act of 2021– Major laws passed by the House of Representatives but not yet incorporated in the Senate – can become law.
Why? Despite deep party political divisions in the Senate, Bass believes a group of Senate Republicans could side with the Democrats in support of meaningful police reform. Bass, the former chairman of the Black Caucus in Congress and author of the Police Justice Act, is particularly encouraged by the South Carolina Senator’s commitment Tim Scott, a major Republican, on the subject.

“I am hopeful because the group of people in which we have only had informal discussions is very sincere and it is a non-partisan group.” Bass told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “And I think we want to make a difference.”

Bass spoke about prospects for their legislation being passed on the eve of the concluding arguments in the murder trial of the former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd for 9 minutes 29 seconds before the man died. Amid last summer’s national outcry over police violence and systemic racism following Floyd’s death, Bass drafted the Law on Police Justice and secured passage of the house a 236-181 vote Three Republicans joined the Democrats in backing the measure. The Senate, then led by former Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Refused to take up the issue.

This year, Bass and her main co-sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) Reintroduced the bill, and they once again secured the passage of the House – with a closer 220-212 division. When the House voted on the issue in March, only one Republican, Texan Lance Gooden, voted with the Democrats for the measure. And Gooden right away announced that his vote was mistakenly cast.

So why is bass hopeful? The democratic takeover of the Senate in January is one factor. But she also says: Senator Scott, the only black member of the Republican caucus in the Chamber, has sincerely discussed with Senator Cory Booker (DN.J.) how to reach an agreement on a version of the measure that would overcome barriers to action and win Senate approval can. “Senator Scott is the key,” says Bass. “I think he was an absolutely honest broker. It was very helpful to work with him. ”

Although no agreement was reached, Bass says, “We will continue to work together to find a solution that will achieve the super-majority required to pass laws in the Senate.”

That super-majority – 60 votes – is required to get a Senate vote under the arcane filibuster rules that so often stall action in the Chamber.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the only hope is that the Senate Democratic leaders will try to overthrow the filibuster – or at least bypass it in order to advance this particular move.

Even if Booker and Scott reach an agreement, getting 10 Republicans to side with the Democrats is likely to be difficult to move the plan forward – and it can even be difficult to keep all of the Democrats on board. So the filibuster reform needs to be kept on the table one way or another.

Bass, Booker, and other savvy police reform advocates know that working with Scott in this regard is helpful on several fronts. It reads well what Republican support is possible. It also shows the willingness of Democrats to work across party lines on the issue, which supports the argument for rule reforms when ultimately necessary.

What is in the George Floyd Reform of Policing Act of 2021?

Representative Bass provided this list of the main reforms included in her legislation:

  • Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies from profiling for races, religions, and discrimination, and mandates all law enforcement agencies to provide training on profiling for races, religions, and discrimination.
  • Bans federal chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants and restricts transfers of military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Requires federal agency use of dashboard cameras and body cameras, and encourages state and local law enforcement agencies to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Establish a national register of police misconduct to prevent problem officials who are dismissed or leave the agency from moving to another jurisdiction without being held accountable.
  • Changes federal criminal law from “willful intent” to “ruthlessness” in order to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
  • Reforms Qualified Immunity so that individuals are not prevented from seeking damages when the police violate their constitutional rights.
  • Establish public safety innovation grants for community-level organizations to set up local commissions and task forces to help communities redefine and develop concrete, just and equitable approaches to public safety.
  • Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of standard law enforcement accreditation recommendations based on President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force.
  • Asks state and local law enforcement agencies to report the use of violence data broken down by race, gender, disability, religion, age.
  • Enhances the use of sample and field investigations at the federal level by granting subpoena powers to the Department of Civil Rights of the Justice Department and creating a grant program for attorneys general to develop the authority to conduct independent investigations into troubled police forces.
  • Establish a Department of Justice task force to coordinate investigative, law enforcement, and enforcement efforts by federal, state, and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.
States are also considering reforms in policing

Here’s an interview with the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a former Black Caucus cochair of Congress whose office was prosecuting former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, helped The nation on the need for reforms at the federal, state and local levels.

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