Politics

Republicans' Police Reform Bill Focuses On Transparency And Training


Updated at 11:04 a.m. ET

Senate Republicans unveiled legislation on Wednesday to address a national outcry for reform of the country's law enforcement departments, with hopes of addressing police misconduct, dangerous practices and concerns of systemic racism.

Sen. Tim Scott, the chamber's lone black GOP member, has led the charge for the 106-page legislation to install nearly a dozen, major new provisions to address policing concerns highlighted since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will take up the measure next week. "We are serious about making a law here," he told reporters. There is much to reconcile, though, with the House Democrats' sweeping Justice in Policing Act, released last week.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the GOP bill, saying it "does not rise to the moment" and would need "dramatic improvement," but did not say that Democrats would block the procedural motion needed to bring the bill to the floor.

"There's no reason to scribble our changes in the margins, or nibble around the edges of this large, difficult and persistent problem. The moment calls for bold action, and the American people are behind it," Schumer said.

The Republicans' legislation comes a day after President Trump's executive order and his visit with families struck personally with loss related to police brutality. Scott attended the order signing and family visit.

Of that meeting, Scott said, "The president was the most presidential I've seen him talking to the families yesterday." Scott said Trump told Attorney General William Barr "to get it done."

Scott said he was hopeful the Senate will approve the proposed legislation is a bipartisan fashion, as it did in the coronarvirus relief legislation.

"I believe if we take that same consciousness into this process and we don't make it about bipartisan or partisan politics, we make it about families who have lost loved ones, we make it about restoring trust, about respecting officers ... we'll get to the finish line," Scott said.

McConnell's announcement about timing shows what a priority the legislation has become. Originally, the Senate was slated to take up the annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act next week. However, Republicans have faced increasing pressure to respond to demands for policing reform, as well as answer a Democratic proposal set to be marked up later Wednesday for a vote this month.

An aide to Scott said Wednesday the Republican measure is up to 18 co-sponsors and counting.

"Too many Americans have lost confidence in institutions created for the purpose of keeping our communities safe," reads an introductory note to the legislation obtained by NPR. "To rebuild that lost faith, the JUSTICE Act focuses on police reform, accountability and transparency."

Among the measure's key provisions:

The measure also includes several more bipartisan efforts, including the creation of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. The commission, which would be charged with issuing wide-range reporting on conditions impacting young black men and boys, is also in the Democratic proposal.

It also includes other Democratic provisions, such as the National Criminal Justice Commission Act to trigger a review of the criminal justice system, and making it unlawful for an officer to engage in sexual relations with an individual who is being detained or in custody.

Still, congressional Democrats have already called the GOP plan a "watered down" approach, arguing that any reform bill needs to address the issue of qualified immunity — the legal protection for police officers that forecloses victims' ability to sue. Scott acknowledged that the issue of qualified immunity is one where his bill and the Democrats' plan are far apart but said he was open to discussing it.

The Democrats' plan also goes a step further than Republicans' by explicitly banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

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