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Dems Revive Bill to Overhaul Policing  03/04 06:12

   Cheered on by President Joe Biden, House Democrats hustled to pass the most 
ambitious effort in decades to overhaul policing nationwide, able to avoid 
clashing with moderates in their own party who are wary of reigniting a debate 
they say hurt them during last fall's election.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cheered on by President Joe Biden, House Democrats 
hustled to pass the most ambitious effort in decades to overhaul policing 
nationwide, able to avoid clashing with moderates in their own party who are 
wary of reigniting a debate they say hurt them during last fall's election.

   The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was approved 220-212 late Wednesday.

   The sweeping legislation, which was first approved last summer but stalled 
in the Senate, was named in honor of Floyd, whose killing by police in 
Minnesota last Memorial Day sparked protests nationwide. The bill would ban 
chokeholds and "qualified immunity" for law enforcement and create national 
standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability.

   "My city is not an outlier, but rather an example of the inequalities our 
country has struggled with for centuries," said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who 
represents the Minneapolis area near where Floyd died. She asked her colleagues 
if they would "have the moral courage to pursue justice and secure meaningful 
change?"

   Democrats say they were determined to pass the bill a second time, to combat 
police brutality and institutional racism after the deaths of Floyd, Breonna 
Taylor and other Black Americans following interactions with law enforcement 
--- images of which were sometimes jarringly captured on video. Those killings 
drew a national and international outcry.

   Floyd's family watched the emotional debate from a nearby House office 
building.

   But the debate over legislation has turned into a political liability for 
Democrats as Republicans seized on calls by some activists and progressives to 
"defund the police" to argue that Democrats were intent on slashing police 
force budgets. This bill doesn't do that.

   Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said it was a reason 
the party, after talking confidently of growing its majority in November, 
instead saw it shrink to just 10 seats, 221-211.

   "We played too much defense on 'defund the police,'" Perez said.

   Moderate Democrats said the charge helped drive Democratic defeats in swing 
districts around the country.

   "No one ran on 'defund the police,' but all you have to do is make that a 
political weapon," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Texas Democrat who has 
pushed for more police funding in places like his city of Laredo, where the law 
enforcement presence is especially concentrated given the close proximity to 
the Mexican border.

   While Democrats used their then-larger majority to pass the police reform 
measure in the House last summer, it stalled in the then-Republican-controlled 
Senate, where GOP senators pushed an alternate plan that Democrats blocked from 
consideration, calling it inadequate. Democrats now control both chambers of 
Congress, but it seems unlikely the bill could pass the Senate without 
substantial changes to win GOP support.

   The bill had been set for a vote Thursday, but House leaders abruptly 
changed the schedule to wrap up their week's work after U.S. Capitol Police 
warned of threats of violence at the Capitol two months after the Jan. 6 siege.

   Senior Democratic congressional aides said Wednesday they were eager to get 
the bill to the Senate, where negotiations will take longer.

   Republicans quickly revived the "defund the police" criticisms. "Our law 
enforcement officers need more funding not less," Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, 
R-Wis., said during Wednesday's debate.

   Despite the political attacks by Republicans, even the House's more centrist 
lawmakers, some representing more conservative districts, backed the bill.

   "Black Americans have endured generations of systemic racism and 
discrimination for too long, and this has been painfully evident in their 
treatment by law enforcement," said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash, who chairs the 
moderate New Democrat Coalition.

   That endorsement came despite the bill's prohibitions on so-called qualified 
immunity, which shields law enforcement from certain lawsuits and is one of the 
main provisions that will likely need to be negotiated in any compromise with 
the Senate.

   Police unions and other law enforcement groups have argued that, without 
such legal protections, fear of lawsuits will stop people from becoming police 
officers --- even though the measure permits such suits only against law 
enforcement agencies, rather than all public employees.

   California Rep. Karen Bass, who authored the bill, understands the challenge 
some House members face in supporting it.

   "My colleagues, several of them, I do not make light of the difficulty they 
had getting reelected because of the lie around defunding the police," Bass 
said.

   She called provisions limiting qualified immunity and easing standards for 
prosecution "the only measures that hold police accountable --- that will 
actually decrease the number of times we have to see people killed on 
videotape."

   Bass said she would not make concessions before the bill cleared the House. 
Changes would only serve to weaken it while failing to shield Democrats from 
the false "defund the police" narrative surrounding it, she said.

   "Even if they were to vote against the bill, even if they were to have a 
press conference denouncing the bill, they are still going to be hit with the 
same lie," Bass said of Democrats.

   She also acknowledged the challenges Democrats faced last November --- and 
may likely see again --- when former President Donald Trump's reelection 
campaign and other leading Republicans crowded the airwaves with images of 
cities around the country burning. But Bass said those attacks, like much of 
the opposition to the bill, are built on racism, promoting fears about how "the 
scary Black people are going to attack you if you try to rein in the police."

   "That's as old as apple pie in our history," she said. "So do you not act 
because of that?"

   Still, she conceded that changes are likely to come if the measure is to win 
the minimum 60 votes it will need to advance in the Senate, which is now split 
50-50. Bass said she'd been in contact with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the 
only Black Republican in the chamber, and was confident he would help deliver 
some GOP support.

   Scott said this week that the legislation's sticking points were qualified 
immunity and prosecutorial standards and that in both areas, "We have to 
protect individual officers."

   "That's a red line for me," Scott said, adding, "Hopefully we'll come up 
with something that actually works."

   That could prove a tall order, despite the White House's vocal support for 
police reform. Biden has promised to combat systemic racism and signed 
executive orders he says will begin doing that, though advocates are expecting 
the new administration to go further.

   Biden has tweeted that he hopes "to be able to sign into law a landmark 
police reform bill."




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