House panel advances funding bill mandating police reform

House panel advances funding bill mandating police reform
© Bonnie Cash

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday advanced a funding bill with a slew of police reforms that are unlikely to make it through the GOP-controlled Senate.

The committee sent the spending bill to the House in a 30-22 party-line vote.

Democrats loaded the $71.4 billion Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill for fiscal 2021 with several policy riders and waivers aimed at reining in police violence and racial discrimination in the justice system.

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"Our nation is in the midst of a moment of reckoning with its history of racial discrimination, denials of civil rights, and police violence," said subcommittee chair José Serrano (D-N.Y.).

The panel rejected three Republican amendments that would have rolled back or otherwise altered the police reforms.

The spending bill would withhold certain funds from police departments that don't implement reforms such as banning chokeholds. It also would fund a National Task Force on Law Enforcement Oversight and a National Police Misconduct Database, two key Democratic demands on police reform.

"These changes show that the federal government is deeply serious about ensuring police accountability and protecting civil rights," Serrano said.

Police reform was thrust into the national spotlight after the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody. The House passed a police reform bill last month, but a competing GOP measure stalled in the Senate.

Addressing police reform in the appropriations process is a major reason why the Senate has not moved forward with any of its spending bills. Senate Democrats have insisted on the opportunity to offer amendments that would introduce similar measures on police reforms, as well as additional COVID-19 relief, into the appropriations process. Republicans have balked, saying that both issues are being discussed in separate bills and have no place in the appropriations process.

The appropriations bill advanced by House Democrats on Tuesday also provides funding for NASA, including a project to put the first woman on the moon, and funding for the Violence Against Women Act, the National Science Foundation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other key agencies and offices.