‘We must act now’: House passes police reform bill named for George Floyd

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on Wednesday night in a 220-212 vote, ushering in a series of police reform measures in the wake of national uprising against racial injustice and police brutality.

The policing reform bill aims to bolster police accountability and prevent problem officers from moving from one department to another by creating a national registry to track those with checkered records. It also would end certain police practices that have been under scrutiny after the deaths of Black Americans in the last year.

California Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat and former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus who reintroduced the bill with House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Wednesday morning during a press call that 30 years after Rodney King was beaten by police in Los Angeles, “we are still trying to transform policing in the United States. And since George Floyd was murdered a year ago, there have been over 100 officer-involved shootings, there have been numerous examples of officers not being charged.

“At some point, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How many more people have to die? How many more people have to be brutalized on videotape like the three girls – 6, 8, and 11 years old – in Colorado that were taken out of their car, made to lie on their ground?’ We must act now to transform policing in the United States to hold police accountable but also to give them the support they need to have accreditation and raise the standard of policing in the United States.”

Floyd died May 25, 2020, after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd cried out that he could not breathe. His death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

What’s in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

The reintroduced bill would: prohibit profiling based on race and religion and mandate training on profiling; ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants; require the use of federal funds to ensure use of body cameras; establish a National Police Misconduct Registry; amend the prosecution standard for police from “willfulness” to “recklessness” and reform qualified immunity; and require stronger data reporting on police use of force.

On the press call, a senior Democratic aide said the legislation also creates “public safety innovation grants for community based organizations to create local conditions and task forces to reimagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.”

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The legislation was first introduced last year amid nationwide protests over racial inequality following the death of George Floyd and passed in the last Congress with a bipartisan vote of 236-181.

In the Senate, Republicans proposed other bills on the issue, like Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina introducing the JUSTICE Act — which shares components of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky introducing the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act to ban no-knock warrants.

Taylor died March 13, 2020, after police entered her Louisville home in the early morning hours as part of a narcotics investigation, using a “no-knock” warrant. Police say they began shooting after one of the officers was shot and injured.

The qualified immunity provision in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has been a tough selling-point for GOP senators. Scott, the lone Black Republican senator, did not address qualified immunity — the legal doctrine that shields police officers from being held personally liable in civil court if they kill someone — in his legislation. It was subsequently blocked by Democrats, who argued that it did not go far enough.

Scott told reporters Monday he had a conversation with Bass “looking at the bill holistically.”

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What comes next

The legislation will require at least 10 Senate Republican votes joining all 50 Democrats to make it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Bass told reporters Wednesday she is “confident we will be able to have a bipartisan bill in the Senate that will reach President Biden’s desk. We will begin those discussions with the Senate immediately after the bill is passed.”

Bass said there have already been talks in recent weeks between her office and those of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., the leading Senate Democrat on policing, and Scott. They are the only Black members of the Senate.

House Majority Steny Hoyer’s office announced Wednesday the House would vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Wednesday instead of Thursday as planned. The schedule change comes as Capitol Police have warned of a Thursday security threat to the Capitol.

Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry, Nicholas Wu USA TODAY

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