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Senate Republicans Unveil ‘Justice Act’ In Bid To Beat House Democrats To Police Reform
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 17: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is joined by fellow Republican lawmakers for a news conference to unveil the GOP's legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol June 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Scott, the Senate's lone black Republican, lead the effort to write the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, which discourages the use of chokeholds, requires police departments to release more information on use of force and no-knock warrants, and encourages body cameras and better training. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Republicans unveiled a comprehensive police reform bill Wednesday morning, beating House Democrats to the punch on an issue at the forefront of most Americans’ minds.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) would establish a national “enhanced use-of-force database, pursue restrictions on chokeholds and create new commissions to study law enforcement and race,” Fox News reports.

Republicans have been building on criminal justice reform legislation and police reform legislation that stagnated in Congress in recent years, in the hopes that new laws that serve both minority and law enforcement communities could be mutually acceptable to a bipartisan coalition of legislators.

“The answer to the question of which side do you support is ‘I support America,'” Sen. Scott said at the bill’s unveiling Wednesday morning, “And if you support America you support restoring the confidence that communities of color have in institutions of authority. If you support America, that means you know that the overwhelming number of officers in this nation want to do their job, go home to their family. It is not a binary choice. This legislation encompasses that spirit.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), stressed the immediate need for the 120-page bill, which both leaders expect to pass the Senate sometime later this week.

Democrats and anti-racism activists claim the Republican bill does not go far enough because it does not ban the use of chokeholds outright and does not address the issue of qualified immunity, which gives police officers some protections in cases where the use of force becomes excessive.

To handle the latter issue, though, both Republicans and Democrats would have to confront powerful public sector employee unions — a decision which could have consequences for fundraising and grassroots support. Republicans have long relied on police unions as a source of campaign cash, and Democrats may be reticent to go after any public sector employee union out of fear that others, like the powerful national teachers union or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), could be next.

Democrats unveiled their own piece of legislation late Tuesday, though that bill will likely be turned away by the Senate, even if it passes the House.

The House’s Justice in Policing Act, according to Fox, would “lower the bar for police officers to face criminal prosecution by allowing charges not just in cases where alleged misconduct was intentional, but also in cases of reckless misconduct. It would also ban chokeholds, create a national database of cops who committed misconduct, boost police training and reform qualified immunity that can protect cops from lawsuits from victims of police brutality.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who had planned on assisting Democrats in their effort to get their bill passed in the Senate, attacked Scott’s bill with racially charged language in a speech Wednesday morning, calling the measure a “token” effort at handling police reform.

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