Senate Republicans unveil new police reforms in ‘Justice Act’

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Senate Republicans have unveiled a proposal to change police procedures and accountability with an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds and new commissions to study law enforcement and race.

The JUSTICE Act proposes taking funds away from departments that allow chokeholds. It would also add use of force reporting and reporting for no-knock warrants, develop training on de-escalation, and make lynching a federal crime.

The bill — Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020 — is the most ambitious GOP policing proposal in years, a direct response to the massive public protests over the death of George Floyd and other black Americans.

Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell said the bill will be the next item of business in the Senate next week.

Happening now

The package was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the GOP’s lone black Republican, and a task force of GOP senators assembled by Republican leadership.

“We’re not a racist country. But we deal with racism because it is in the country,” Scott said at Wednesday’s briefing, alongside Sen. Lindsey Graham and others.

The 106-page bill is not as sweeping as a Democratic proposal, which is set for a House vote next week, but it shows how swiftly the national debate has been transformed as Republicans embrace a new priority in an election year.

The GOP proposal

The GOP legislation would beef up requirements for law enforcement to compile use of force reports under a new George Floyd and Walter Scott Notification Act, named for the Minnesota father whose May 25 death sparked worldwide protests over police violence, and Scott, the South Carolina man shot by police after a traffic stop in 2015.

It would also establish the Breonna Taylor Notification Act to track “no-knock” warrants. Such warrants used to be rare, but the 26-year-old was killed after police in Kentucky used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville home.

To focus on ending chokeholds, it encourages agencies to do away with the practice or risk losing federal funds. Many big city departments have long stopped their use. It also provides funding for training to “de-escalate” situations and establish a “duty to intervene” protocol to prevent excessive force.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to reform police procedures that creates a federal database of police officers and improves training but stopped short of a complete ban on police chokeholds.

The mood around the bill

As the contours of the Senate GOP package emerged in recent days, Democrats panned it as insufficient, as their own bill takes a more direct approach to changing federal misconduct laws and holding individual officers legally responsible for incidents.

But the GOP effort seeks to reach across the aisle to Democrats in several ways. It includes one long-sought bill to make lynching a federal hate crime and another to launch a study of the social status of black men and boys that has been touted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

What else would change?

The Republican package also includes a bipartisan Senate proposal to establish a National Criminal Justice Commission Act and extends funding streams for various federal law enforcement programs, including the COPS program important to states.

The package includes a mix of other proposals, including tapping the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to create law enforcement training curriculum on “the history of racism in the United States.” Another closes a loophole to prohibit federal law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual acts with those being arrested or in custody.

Expenditures for the bill would be considered on an emergency basis, so as not to count against federal deficits.

The GOP proposal comes amid a crush of activity from Washington as President Donald Trump announced executive actions Tuesday to create a database of police misconduct.

Trump vowed a “big moment” if lawmakers could act to pass legislation. At a Rose Garden event for his executive actions, he declared himself “committed to working with Congress on additional measures.”

The Senate could vote as soon as next week.

— ArLuther Lee contributed to this report for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.