Congressional Black Caucus to propose policing reforms after George Floyd's death

Democrats see an opportunity to advance new proposals on policing.

June 2, 2020, 7:41 PM

The Congressional Black Caucus is at work on a package of policing reforms the House could advance later this month in response to the death of George Floyd, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chair of the caucus, told ABC News.

A federal chokehold ban, a review of police training standards and a reform of the legal doctrine that shields police officers from legal liability are some of the proposals circulating among the group, which House Democratic leaders have tasked with leading the chamber's response to Floyd's death and the ongoing protests.

"We are going to do everything we can, while the nation has a height of awareness on the issue, to pass transformative legislation," said Bass. "We want to make sure that, in this time period, we are very visible so that African Americans around the country understand that this is our experience as well."

Republicans and Democrats have been united in condemning the events leading up to Floyd's death, but any broad and rapid compromise on policing reforms is unlikely on Capitol Hill -- particularly in an election year when lawmakers are already struggling to agree on how to address the ongoing coronavirus and economic crises.

Still, the caucus hopes to use the moment to promote new ideas for policing reform, as well as proposals that have stalled in committee and previous sessions of Congress. The effort could also lead to action in 2021 depending on the results of the presidential election.

"Of course it is a responsibility of all of us to take the time to heal. But we are looking to them for their values-based, sad experience and their leadership in terms of legislation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the caucus on Tuesday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday endorsed a federal chokehold ban from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., calling it a "down payment on what is long overdue." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said on Tuesday she would introduce the measure in the Senate.

Jeffries first proposed the measure in 2015 after the death of Eric Garner. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the topic in September 2019, but the proposal has yet to advance out of committee.

On Monday, Sen. Cory Booker D-N.J., along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for reforming the federal statute governing police misconduct and the qualified immunity legal doctrine, which has been used to shield police officers and other government officials from some lawsuits.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listen during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining issues facing prisons and jails during the coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill, June 2, 2020.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a senior member of the caucus, plans to reintroduce the Law Enforcement Trust Integrity Act of 2015, a measure that would overhaul police training standards and incentivize oversight and accountability reforms.

Beyond the group, Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, said he planned to introduce a bill to end qualified immunity and allow victims of excessive police force to sue officers in court, a proposal also backed by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

"All of us want to get at the root causes of the lack of police accountability and want to be able to hold police accountable in court for their misconduct," Bass told ABC News, adding that lawmakers want to "end the careers of abusive officers" and prevent fired officers accused of using excessive force from being hired by other police departments.

While Republicans have supported plans for police brutality hearings and condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd's death, some have also called for more attention to the outbreaks of violence and looting amid the largely peaceful protests across the country.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the former ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler that his committee should look into anti-facist antifa protesters and their activities in addition to any examination of police brutality. Nadler plans to hold a hearing on new criminal justice proposals and police brutality as soon as next week, according to aides.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has pledged to hold a hearing on policing and use of force, while Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, plans to push to end a Pentagon program to transfer military equipment to American police departments, a move endorsed by a top aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Twitter.

Representative Joyce Beatty, a Democrat from Ohio, listens during a Joint Economic Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Nov. 13, 2019.
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bass predicted that the House will have legislation ready for passage by the end of the month, when the chamber is expected to return to Washington for votes.

"This is a unique time that is allowing us to come together because the people are angry," said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, a member of the caucus who was pepper-sprayed at a protest in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend, "They're crying out for answers."

ABC's Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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