Sen. Tim Scott: Talking with Democrats About Reviving Police Reform Bill

July 9, 2020 Updated: July 9, 2020

Police reform that was the subject of street protests last month, sometimes violent, stalled with Republican and Democrats unable to find common ground, but Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Wednesday he’s in the process of negotiating with House Democrats about revisiting his police reform legislation.

Scott, who has led the Republican effort in crafting the GOP’s police reform legislation, The JUSTICE Act, told reporters he had spoken with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, about compromising on points of his bill, including, possibly, qualified immunity.

Bass has led the Democrats in crafting their police reform legislation, The Justice in Policing Act.

“The good news is that since then I’ve had a lot of conversations specifically with leaders in the House, sat down with Karen Bass and others who have led the charge for the Congressional Black Congress and the House Democrats on police reform,” Scott said.

“The more she has taken look at the bill the more she has suggested perhaps a half or two-thirds of a loaf might be better than none,” he added.

After Scott introduced the GOP JUSTICE Act, Democrats criticized it for not going far enough in many areas, particularly to combat racial profiling and protections for police (qualified immunity) who use excessive force. At Wednesday’s press briefing, Scott indicated that Republicans might be willing to add provisions that allow families to sue police in some excessive force scenarios.

“That is something that we would at least take a look at being able to have more information on racial profiling so that we draw better conclusions. Number one, I think making it easier for the victim’s family or if the victim, if it’s a serious bodily injury to sue departments in cities, is a really important part of it. I also think that having a moat around the officer, keeping that officer, by enlarge, protected is an important part of making progress as well,” Scott continued.

Advocates for qualified immunity say, the doctrine allows police to do their job without having to worry, that split-second decision may cost them their job or livelihood, while opponents say it protects brutal officers and prevents victims from receiving justice.

“So, if we can find a way to thread the needle on both sides, that we make the cities and the departments more responsible for the culture that they create, and maintain those officers that have bad records that we know about—if we can eliminate that and protect the character-driven officers for that moat around that officer,” then they can move forward Scott added.

Scott has previously criticized Democrats for their unwillingness to compromise, even after being offered the opportunity to discuss and amend his legislation.

“If they don’t come to the table with that type of concessions made that means that they’re more interested in winning elections than they are in police reform,” said Scott.

The South Carolina Senator thinks lawmakers are back at the “drawing board” with the police reform package. He noted the potential inclusion of a provision to collect data on racial profiling by police, which is included in the House’s version of the bill.

“Right now, we’re sitting on zero, and that speaks poorly to the American people and specifically to communities of color who have been challenged by these situations for decades,” said Scott.

“So, I think we’re back at the drawing board and had a conversation with another member last night. So, I’m hopeful that the next couple of weeks may produce the type of outcomes that we’re looking for,” Scott added.

“We may have a Lazarus moment, we may not.”

Police reform came back to the forefront of lawmakers’ minds, after the death of George Floyd was recorded on video, while in the custody of Minneapolis police. The subsequent protests have led Democrats and Republicans to prioritize police reform legislation.

The House Democrats passed a large police reform package in June that got rid of chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and qualified immunity for police officers, which, as is, the GOP members did not support.

In addition, President Trump signed an executive order in June that would provide federal dollars for police departments that train officers in and use de-escalation tactics, while banning chokeholds unless an officer’s life is threatened.