Jun 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans prepare their opening bid on police reform

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) speaks in a hearing on Capitol Hill
Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Photo: Al-Drago-Pool/Getty Images

Senate Republicans are planning to unveil a police reform bill on Wednesday that will limit the use of chokeholds and offer federal funding for deescalation training, sources familiar with the draft bill tell Axios.

The big picture: Republicans are under increasing pressure to deliver tangible change in the wake of mass outrage over the death of George Floyd. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C), who has taken the lead on drafting the bill, and other members of the Senate GOP task force see the bill as a starting point for negotiations with House Democrats.

Details: According to two sources familiar with the current measure, the Senate Republican bill would:

  • Limit the use of chokeholds by restricting access to federal grants.
  • Create a national database of officers who use excessive force.
  • Make federal lynching a hate crime. (Two sources familiar with the task force's talks say Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) still has issues with this provision, though it's unclear whether he will oppose the bill in its entirety.)
  • Provide a new funding stream for jurisdictions to purchase and implement body cameras.
  • Offer new funding to jurisdictions that utilize de-escalation and duty-to-intervene training.

As of now, “qualified immunity” — which protects officers from lawsuits against their actions in the field — is not part of the bill.

  • The White House has said the issue is a red line, though Scott is pursuing a “decertification” process for officers who knowingly violate the law.
  • Chokeholds were originally considered a sticking point as well, but it's now clear that restricting their use will be part of the bill. "I haven't heard any pushback from the White House on chokeholds," one of the sources said.

State of play: So far, the bill has widespread support among the Senate Republican conference. But the bigger issue will be finding areas of compromise with House and Senate Democrats' Justice in Policing Act, which is far more expansive.

  • One source said the task force is already having conversations with House Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus about the bill, but they expect negotiations to begin in earnest once the Senate GOP bill is introduced.
  • "Everyone will put their chips on the table, then there will be some sort of [negotiations] between the White House, Senate and House to find common ground," the source told Axios.
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