Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act Moves to House Floor, With Votes Split Along Party Lines

June 18, 2020 Updated: June 18, 2020

During a House Judiciary Committee markup on Wednesday, members voted along party lines, to advance a package of bills that would reform police practices, like the chokehold, spotlighted in the killing of Mr. George Floyd, May 25.

Committee markup sessions are a chance for members to hear and consider alternative viewpoints, offer amendments, and vote to accept or reject these changes.

After an eleven-hour markup, in which the judiciary committee members debated the various provisions of the Legislation, with a resulting vote of 24–14 and none of the Republican amendments being accepted.

The package will now advance to the full House for a floor vote next week. The Democrat’s Legislation will likely stall in the Republican-held Senate.

While the two groups agree that police reform needs to happen, they disagree on the specific measures that would end police brutality and racial profiling.

Both parties feel the intense public pressure to reform policing in the wake of sometimes violent protests in response to Floyd’s death. Tensions were high during Wednesday’s markup, where members of the Judiciary Committee argued back and forth about police reform.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), led the effort to design the Democrats’ police reform package which differs from the GOP police reform bill in that it would prohibit no-knock warrants in drug cases, amend qualified immunity, and then make it easier for courts to find officers personally liable for the violation of civil rights. It would amend the federal civil rights law which would then no longer require prosecutors to prove that an officer’s actions were willful, and create a national registry including complaints, disciplinary records, and termination records.

GOP lawmakers want to protect the rights of the mostly good police officers and think that loosening protections for officers will make them ineffectual and ultimately drive police away from the profession.

Wednesday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also introduced the GOP’s police reform proposal (JUSTICE Act). Republicans on the House Judiciary panel suggested a series of amendments in an effort to amend the provisions that Republicans think are too extreme and potentially disempower the police, trying to get the proposal closer to the Senate version.

An amendment, offered by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), would have allowed some no-knock warrants in drug cases. Another, offered by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), would have restored the doctrine of qualified immunity, which is greatly reduced under the Democrats’ bill.

The Senate GOP bill incentivizes the elimination of chokehold so police departments can qualify for grant funding, in contrast to House Democrats’ proposal completely bans chokeholds. Senate Republicans plan to bring their bill up for a floor vote next week.

Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Senate Democrats to work with them on possible amendments to the GOP police reform bill.

“The JUSTICE Act provides solutions on police reform that are sober, serious, and significant. The Senate should address this issue now. But we’ll only be able to act if both sides can work together. I hope our Democratic colleagues will come to the table next week.”

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voiced concerns about the left’s campaign to defund the police, and the violence from far-left groups like Antifa and offered an amendment to investigate the group.

Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to distract from the main issue of police brutality.

The Republican ranking member of the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) took to twitter Thursday to voice his opposition to the Democrats’ rejecting all republican amendments.

“House Democrats wasted today’s meeting of the Judiciary Committee by advancing a political messaging bill that has no hope of becoming law,” said Jim Jordan. “Rather than accepting thoughtful ideas to improve the bill, Democrats rejected all 12 amendments offered by Republicans.”

Jordan said that Democrats are trying to “appease their radical base” instead of passing meaningful reform.

“In contrast, the legislation put forth today by Republicans, and ignored by Democrats, approaches police reform issues with seriousness and would improve the relationship between our communities and the police,” said Jordan.

Rep. Bass said despite the differences in the two police reform packages she is still hopeful that a compromise can be reached.

“When I hear that many of our proposals have been incorporated in what I hear is coming out of the Senate in a different way, not as strong, not as powerful, but it makes me feel like there is a pathway for us to do this,” Bass said.

A White House spokeswoman said the Trump administration fully backs the Senate Republican JUSTICE Act. The differences  between the Republican and Democratic bills jeopardizes progress on the police reform issue.