What is the George Floyd Police Justice Act and can Congress pass it?

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden gave Congress a deadline: pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act before the first anniversary of his assassination.

The president urged lawmakers to send the bill to his desk by May 25, 2021, a year after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd, whose death was captured on video from a bystander and sparked nationwide protests calling for justice for the murders of black people by law. law enforcement and demanding police reforms.

But a sweeping police bill in the hands of Congress, which sought to overhaul use-of-force policies across the country, missed the president’s deadline. The bipartisan negotiations stalled. And from 2021 through the end of 2022, more than 2,200 Americans were killed by police.

The death of Tire Nichols, who was severely beaten by a group of Memphis Police Department officers three days before his death at the hospital in January, has sparked a renewed effort to pass the legislation.

But he faces even more hurdles in 2023 than when he first passed a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives two years ago.

A week after Nichols’ funeral, where his family and civil rights leaders called on lawmakers to revive the bill, President Biden will once again take on the nation in a primetime address that advocates hope will address police reform. The President’s State of the Union on February 7 will also be attended by several families of victims of police violence.

Last year, two years after Floyd’s death, members of the Floyd family joined President Biden in signing a sweeping executive order on police reform, hailed by civil rights groups as a foundation on which to build stronger protections. against police violence.

But the White House has stressed that any executive action on police reform is not a substitute for congressional action, and the administration and Democratic leaders are calling on Congress to resubmit the bill.

In surprise remarks at Nichols’ funeral, Vice President Kamala Harris, a co-author of the bill when she was a senator from California, said “let us let the memory of Tire light the path to peace and justice.”

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, also pleaded with lawmakers to pass the bill.

“If we don’t, the next child that dies,” she said through tears, “will have blood on their hands.”

What’s in the George Floyd Police Justice Act?

Supportive legislators, criminal justice advocates, and families of victims of police violence did not see the bill as a panacea for rooting out bias and systemic abuse among the nation’s police departments, but it represented a tool important for accountability.

A crucial component of the bill would revise the liability shield for individual police officers, known as “qualified immunity,” which would theoretically make it easier to bring civil lawsuits against them.

That decades-old doctrine provides broad protections for police officers, and Republican lawmakers have argued that weakening those protections could expose them and their agencies to excessive lawsuits.

Despite GOP campaign messages and speeches by Republicans, the bill does not “defund” police departments.

Why did the bill fail?

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a version of the bill without any Republican support on a 220-212 vote in 2021.

A similar bill passed in 2020 but languished in a then-GOP-controlled Senate.

A bipartisan group that includes Republican Sen. Tim Scott, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Democratic US Rep. Karen Bass, who has since left office after her Los Angeles mayoral election, was tasked with leading the negotiations on the version of the bill in the Senate.

A compromise bill offered by Republicans would destroy any qualified immunity reform proposed by Democratic lawmakers. Instead, it would maintain immunity provisions for individual officers and allow victims or people alleging police misconduct to sue their police departments.

In his address to a joint session of Congress in April 2021, President Biden told lawmakers to “come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to eradicate systemic racism in our criminal justice system and enact police reform in the name of George Floyd that has already passed the House.”

“I know that the Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in very productive discussions with the Democrats in the Senate,” he said. “We need to work together to find a consensus. But let’s do it next month, for the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd.”

Less than six months later, the negotiations hit a wall.

Senator Booker told reporters at the time that the group was not making “any more significant progress in establishing really substantive reform in America’s policing.”

“The effort from the beginning was to get police reform that would raise professional standards, police reform that would create a lot more transparency, and then police reform that would create accountability,” he said. “And we couldn’t reach an agreement on those three big areas.”

Meanwhile, the White House quietly abandoned plans for a national police oversight commission, first proposed during Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. National Policy Council director Susan Rice said a commission would not be the ” most effective way” to implement reforms, based on “close and respectful consultation” with civil rights groups.

What are the bill’s chances?

With a majority in the House and strong enough numbers in the Senate to obstruct critical parts of Biden’s agenda, Republicans are likely to shut down any George Floyd-named bill that includes qualified immunity reform and other measures. passed by Democratic lawmakers.

Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers working on the bill’s text, called the legislation’s resurrection an “important.”

“Reviving the House progressives’ police reform bill is a failure. I’ve been working to find common ground solutions that actually have a chance to happen.” he said on February 2.

He said those “fixes” would “increase funding and training to make sure only the best wear the badge.”

“There is no perfect bill,” said Democratic US Rep. James Clyburn, a key Biden ally in Congress. Washington Post.

“Keep trying to get perfect legislation instead of good legislation, I just don’t know if that’s a good thing,” he said. “We may not get everything we need or everything we want at one time, but we have to do this.”

One day after Nichols’ funeral, President Biden met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Oval Office.

“I hope this dark memory spurs some action that we have all been fighting for,” Biden said before the meeting began. “How can we advance police reform of consequences and violence in our communities?”

US Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Nichols’ death “is yet another example of why we need action.”

“We need your help to make sure we can get the necessary legislative actions to save lives and make public safety the priority it should be for all communities,” he told the president.

A description of the meeting provided by the White House said the discussion “focused on important reforms that have already been implemented” under the president’s executive action, including a federal ban on strangulation, restrictions on warrants and requirements that the federal law law enforcement use body cameras.

President Biden and Vice President Harris told lawmakers that “no executive action can replace federal legislation, and necessary changes at the state and local levels will require action by Congress,” according to the White House.

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