The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Democrat-supported George Floyd Justice in Policing Act 236-181 on a largely partisan vote Thursday. The vote occured after Republican leaders criticized their colleagues across the aisle for failing to consider the Republican alternative police reform bill.
“There’s so much similarity between the two bills, we’ve just got a couple of issues that are important,” said Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who voted against the House bill.
The Democrats’ bill was written by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Among other reforms, the bill would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants for felony drug cases; limit the transfer of military-style equipment to local police departments; ban and require training about discriminatory profiling; and eliminate qualified immunity for police officers.
This last change has proven a sticking point as lawmakers work toward bipartisan support. President Donald Trump has previously said he would not sign a police reform bill that ended qualified immunity. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also indicated he would not support removing qualified immunity.
“Imagine you’re thinking of becoming a police officer, and you think you’re going to be personally liable for every fracas you try to break up,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
The Colorado Fraternal Order of Police has also come out against the removal of qualified immunity. During deliberations over Colorado’s own police reform bill, the organization announced a “call for action” to push members to testify against reforms, arguing it could shift officers’ priority from “protecting life to protecting liability.”
“The bill includes concerning language that does not account for the split-second decisions we all are charged with making on a daily basis,” the Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement.
The organization raised the possibility of allowing officers to be insured in the way a doctor is for malpractice lawsuits to avoid risking serious financial harm if they are sued. Tipton said he is open to including language giving officers the ability to be insured in a bill.
“The complete elimination of qualified immunity is something that would make it very difficult for our law enforcement,” Tipton said.
Disagreement in the SenateSenate Republicans were outraged Wednesday when 43 Democrats effectively blocked the Republican Justice Act, introduced by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., from being debated on the Senate floor. Scott, the lone Black Republican senator, chastised his colleagues for “waiting until an election” to possibly get more of what they want, instead of agreeing to get 80% of what they wanted with the Republican-controlled Senate.
“Why don’t you take the 80% now, see if you can win the election and go get the other 20%?” Scott said on the Senate floor.
Both Colorado senators have expressed eagerness to get police reform legislation passed, but they are separated in their support for their respective parties’ bills.
Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican, has supported Scott’s bill and called the senators who voted against consideration of the bill “partisan loyalists.”
“This legislation would improve law enforcement with transparency, accountability and common-sense reforms,” Gardner said in a statement. “The default of partisan politics is not acceptable at this time in our country’s history – we must take action because this has been avoided for far too long in our country.”
Meanwhile, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, has been a vocal supporter of the Democrats’ companion bill in the Senate, signing on early as a co-sponsor. In a 10-minute speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Bennet called the Republican proposal a half-measure, pointing out that the bill does not outright ban the use of chokeholds or no-knock warrants in all cases and is limited in its removal of qualified immunity.
“There is virtually nothing in this bill to respond to the families calling for justice or to save lives from police practices that have no place in America in the year 2020,” Bennet said. “This is not a time for half measures, for one more attempt to use talking points and legislative tricks to make it seem like we’re doing something when we’re not.”
Jacob Wallace is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal.