House

Bass signals George Floyd police reform bill won’t meet May 25 deadline

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.)
Greg Nash

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chief architect of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, said Wednesday that the sweeping police reform bill won’t be ready for a vote by the self-imposed May 25 deadline that coincides with the first anniversary of Floyd’s murder.

“We won’t make May 25, but I don’t believe it’s going to take months,” Bass told reporters at the Capitol, while suggesting that legislation could be passed in the coming weeks.

“What’s most important is that we get it right and that it be substantive, even if it’s a couple of weeks later. … I won’t say we’re apart on all of these issues, we just haven’t finished.”

Bass has been working with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on a bipartisan version of the police reform bill, though the California congresswoman noted that members of the Problem Solvers Caucus have also been involved in the process.

Bass, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, added that she plans on having another meeting with Booker and Scott this week and will stay in Washington next week even though the House isn’t in session.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was first introduced by Bass in June after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, killing him. The House passed the measure last year, but it was not taken up by the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans. The House passed the bill again this year; it has not been taken up in the Senate.

Public support for police reform has grown since Floyd’s death, which prompted nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

The comprehensive legislation being negotiated seeks to reform key policing practices: racial profiling at every level of law enforcement would be prohibited; chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants would be banned at the federal level; qualified immunity for officers would be overhauled; and a national police misconduct registry would be created so that officers who are fired for such violations could not be hired unknowingly by another police department.

The House-passed bill would not mandate the prohibition of chokeholds at the state and local level, but would set the new federal standards as thresholds for police departments to meet if they want to continue receiving federal aid.

The main sticking points in the negotiations have been qualified immunity and a federal provision known as the “color of law” statute.

Qualified immunity is a powerful legal principle that shields government officials — including police officers — from individual liability, except when constitutional rights are explicitly violated.

The “color of law” statute prohibits law enforcement personnel from willfully depriving “a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

Proponents of changing the statute note that proving a police officer willfully violated another person’s civil rights is exceedingly difficult to prove in court, leading to few police misconduct cases at the trial stage.

Democrats and civil rights advocates argue that removing both statutes would force police officers to be accountable for their behavior, while Republicans counter that eliminating the protections would hurt the quality of police officers and make it harder for them to do their jobs.

It’s unclear whether negotiations will resolve the two issues, but Bass indicated that more work will need to be done regardless of the final version.

“The day that President Biden signs this bill, the next day we keep working because this bill, I think, will be significant. But in no way, shape or form do I think it’s going to be enough, even if I did get every single thing I wanted in it,” Bass said.

Scott Wong contributed.

Tags Cory Booker Joe Biden Karen Bass police reform Tim Scott

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