U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled proposed changes to police procedures and accountability Wednesday including an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds and new commissions to study law enforcement and race, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.
The Justice Act is the most ambitious Republican policing proposal in years, a direct response to the massive public protests over the death of George Floyd and other black Americans.
“We’re serious about making a law here,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky at a press conference at the Capitol announcing the swift launch of floor debate next week. Tim Scott of South Carolina led a task force of the party’s senators in compiling the package.
Scott spoke of his own experiences as an African American being stopped by police and urged colleagues to understand it’s “not a binary choice” between supporting Black people or law enforcement.
“We hear you,” he said to the families of those Americans killed by police. “We’re listening to your concerns.”
Vote could take place next week
The 106-page bill is not as sweeping as a Democratic proposal, which is set for a House vote next week, but it shows how swiftly the national debate has been transformed as Republicans embrace a new priority in an election year.
The Republican legislation would beef up requirements for law enforcement to compile use-of-force reports under a new George Floyd and Walter Scott Notification Act, named for the Minnesota man whose May 25 death sparked worldwide protests over police violence, and Scott, a South Carolina man shot dead by police after a traffic stop in 2015. Scott is not related to the senator.
It would also establish the Breonna Taylor Notification Act to track “no-knock” warrants. The 26-year-old Tayor was killed after police in Kentucky used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville home.
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Focusing on ending chokeholds, the legislation encourages agencies to do away with the practice or risk losing federal funds. Many big city departments have long stopped the use. The legislation also provides funding for training to “de-escalate” situations and establish a “duty to intervene” protocol to prevent excessive force.
Attempts falls short: Schumer
The Republican effort seeks to reach across the aisle to Democrats in several ways. It includes one long-sought bill to make lynching a federal hate crime and another to launch a study of the social status of Black men and boys that has been touted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
McConnell on Wednesday challenged Democrats in the Senate not to block consideration next week, but to allow the debate to begin.
But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, speaking from the floor of the chamber, said a brief review made it clear that the Republican bill “does not rise to the moment” and is “narrower and much less effective” than what House Democrats proposed.
“The Republican bill is silent on racial profiling and militarization of local police departments,” said Schumer. “And perhaps the greatest flaw in the Republican proposal is that it is missing real, meaningful accountability for individual officers’ misconduct.”
The Republican package — dubbed the “Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020” — also includes a bipartisan Senate proposal to establish a National Criminal Justice Commission Act and extends funding streams for various federal law enforcement programs, including the COPS program important to states.
The package includes a mix of other proposals, including tapping the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to create a law enforcement training curriculum on “the history of racism in the United States.” Another closes a loophole to prohibit federal law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual acts with those being arrested or in custody.
Expenditures for the bill would be considered on an emergency basis, so as not to count against federal deficits.
The Senate could vote on it as soon as next week.
The proposal comes amid a crush of activity from Washington as President Donald Trump announced executive actions Tuesday to create a database of police misconduct.
At a Rose Garden event, he declared himself “committed to working with Congress on additional measures.”
Schumer on Wednesday characterized that event as “window dressing” with “vague incentives to suggest police departments change on their own.”