Republicans' police reform bill focuses on transparency and training

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., pictured on May 7, led the effort to draft a Republican police reform proposal.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., pictured on May 7, led the effort to draft a Republican police reform proposal.
Andrew Harnik | Pool | AFP via Getty Images

Senate Republicans are unveiling legislation on Wednesday to address a national outcry for reform of the country's law enforcement departments, with hopes of addressing police misconduct, dangerous practices and concerns of systemic racism.

Led by Sen. Tim Scott, the chamber's lone black GOP member, has led the charge for the 106-page legislation to install nearly a dozen, major new provisions to address policing concerns highlighted since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Scott said early Wednesday that the legislation will come on the heels of President Donald Trump's executive order and visit with families Tuesday struck personally with loss related to police brutality. Scott attended the order signing and family visit.

"We're working through the executive order and the legislation to have more training around deescalation, to bring more light to the situation, so as to provide real solutions so fewer families are sitting in the White House talking about the lost loved ones," the South Carolina senator told Fox & Friends Wednesday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to join Scott and other authors of the legislation to introduce the plan called the Justice Act later Wednesday morning. He said Tuesday he's considering fast-tracking the bill to the Senate floor in the coming days.

Originally, the Senate was slated to take up the annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. However, Republicans have faced increasing pressure to respond to demands for policing reform, as well as answer a Democratic proposal set to be marked up later Wednesday for a vote this month.

An aide to Scott said Wednesday the Republican measure is up to 18 co-sponsors and counting.

"Too many Americans have lost confidence in institutions created for the purpose of keeping our communities safe," reads an introductory note to the legislation obtained by NPR. "To rebuild that lost faith, the JUSTICE Act focuses on police reform, accountability and transparency."

Among the measure's key provisions:

  • The legislation will increase federal reporting requirements for use of force, no-knock warrants. It also increases penalties for false police reports.

  • It seeks to encourage chokehold bans through this added transparency and by withholding funding for units without bans on chokeholds except when deadly force is authorized.

  • The effort also looks to up use of police body cameras with grant programs, and in turn penalties for failing to use the cameras.

  • Creates a database of police disciplinary records for law enforcement departments to use in their hiring practices.

  • Makes lynching a federal crime, which is linked to an effort that passed in the House but has recently stalled in the Senate.

  • Directs the Justice Department to develop and provide training on deescalation tactics and implement duty-to-intervene policies.

The measure also includes several more bipartisan efforts, including the creation of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. The commission, which would be charged with issuing wide-range reporting on conditions impacting young black men and boys, is also in the Democratic proposal.

It also includes other Democratic provisions, such as the National Criminal Justice Commission Act to trigger a review of the criminal justice system, and making it unlawful for an officer to engage in sexual relations with an individual who is being detained or in custody.

Still, congressional Democrats have already called the GOP plan a "watered down" approach, arguing that any reform bill needs to address the issue of qualified immunity — the legal protection for police officers that forecloses victims' ability to sue. The Democrats' plan also goes a step further than Republicans by explicitly banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

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