Key lawmakers in both parties plan to engage in substantive talks in the coming weeks to see if there can be a policing overhaul deal reached by the time of Democrats’ self-imposed deadline: George Floyd’s death anniversary.
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California told CNN the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin “gives us hope” for a policing overhaul bill. “I am hoping that we will get it over the finish line and this will be positive.”
Bass along with GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker are trying to sketch out parameters of what a Senate version of this bill will look like. The next step will be formal negotiations in the Senate. By all accounts from all sides, there is a sincere desire to make something work on this.
Bass says the goal is to have some language for the bill decided “by the time we hit the anniversary of George Floyd’s death,” on May 25. Her House bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, passed the House without any Republican support in March.
The bill that passed the House would set up a national registry of police misconduct to stop officers from evading consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction. It would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, and it would overhaul qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that critics say shields law enforcement from accountability. It also bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
Formal negotiations have not yet begun in the Senate and Bass referred to talks instead as “informal discussions,” and there are still major stumbling blocks for the legislation. Democrats want to gut qualified immunity, which protects police officers in civil court, while Republicans want to maintain it. However, Bass optimistically stated that she “sees a path,” that includes changes to qualified immunity.
Any legislation in the Senate will need 60 votes but unlike some other hot button issues, Democrats have what they consider an “honest broker” of a partner in Scott whose opinion and work on this carries a lot of weight with Senate Republican leadership.
According to a source familiar with the conversations, Scott has been talking with other Senate Republicans about the ongoing bipartisan conversations he’s been having and, the source says, his fellow members have been supportive.
Scott told CNN April 12 that progress is being made. “I think we’re making progress on the parameters, we’ll see,” Scott said at the time.
In June 2020, Scott introduced the JUSTICE Act in the Senate, a bill with provisions on data on incidents of police brutality being reported to the FBI, de-escalation and intervention training via grants, and officer misconduct transparency via preservation of records on the local level.
That bill was blocked by Senate Democrats later that month over key areas of disagreement on state action versus Democrats’ preference for national standards, as well as Democrats’ desire for a ban on chokeholds and an overhaul of qualified immunity for cops to make it easier to sue them in civil court.
Over the weekend, Bass also acknowledged the uphill climb for passing policing legislation through both chambers of Congress.
“It’s one thing to pass a legislation in the House,” Bass told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” “It’s a super hurdle to get it passed in the Senate.”