US lawmakers ‘making progress’ on police reform – but it’s still early stages

In the aftermath of former police officer Derek Chauvin being convicted of murdering George Floyd, it seems like there is momentum for the US Congress to pass some kind of police reform bill.

Hearings on policing have been held and point people on both the Democratic and Republican sides are in ongoing talks. By most metrics, Congress is in a comfortable position to pass some kind of bill meant to deter police brutality and prevent another George Floyd or Eric Garner.

But this is Congress in 2021. There have been plenty of moments where bipartisanship seemed high and failure seemed remote right before failure became certain. As a result, and despite the intense societal reckoning over racism playing out in America, there are few people who see the passing of meaningful new laws as a guaranteed outcome.

Yet people are talking. “I’m optimistic that we’re making progress. I’m confident that I’m going to negotiate with people at the table and no one else,” Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said during a brief interview on Thursday.

Scott’s comments came on a day where there was a flurry of movement among the principal lawmakers who will have to be involved in some kind of compromise bill’s passage. The New Jersey senator Cory Booker led a committee hearing on policing reform. The California congresswoman Karen Bass, who sponsored the ill-fated George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, engaged in early discussions with Scott and other members of Congress.

Scott had met with Bass on Thursday and said those conversations went “well” but wouldn’t elaborate on specifics or sticking points in a compromise bill.

Outside of Congress, high-profile lawmakers have called for passage of some kind of policing bill.

Joe Biden has publicly urged Congress to make another attempt at passing a policing reform bill.

“George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago,” the president said in remarks from the White House, aggiungendo: “It shouldn’t take a whole year to get this done.”

Republicans argued that the Democrat bill put too much power and responsibility at the federal level. So Scott, after being appointed as the point-person on crafting a policing reform bill by the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, pushed his own policing reform bill in 2020 only to have Senate Democrats filibuster it. Scott’s bill proposed to use federal grant money to incentivize police departments to use body cameras and tactics for deescalating situations.

But by the end of 2020 a policing reform bill looked like it would stay in the legislative graveyard. repubblicani refused to sign on to Democrats’ policing bill and Democrats viewed the Republican counteroffer as a non-starter.

Nel mese di marzo, after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, the chamber passed the George Floyd Policing Act. But since then it’s faced ongoing opposition from Republicans in the Senate. The legislation bars law enforcement from engaging in racial profiling, prohibits chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It also creates a national police misconduct registry.

But in April 2021 it’s too early to say whether this policing reform momentum is on the same trajectory as in 2020. Discussions, according to multiple congressional aides, are very much in the earliest stages.

The presence of Scott at the table is important.

“McConnell and the conference trust Scott generally, and on this issue especially because of his past work on it,” said a former Senate Republican leadership chief of staff. “If there’s going to be a bipartisan reform bill that actually comes together this year, the conference trusts him to come up with a compromise that the majority of them will be able to support.”

Scott has signaled areas of compromise, such as on qualified immunity where responsibility would fall to police departments instead of individual officers.

Talks about sticking points aren’t in full swing yet. Congressional leaders are encouraging early bipartisan talks though. All lawmakers will say, anche se, is that early progress is being made.

"Guarda, I’ve encouraged Senator Booker to talk to Senator Scott and see if they can come up with something. They are making progress. I’m not going to get into the details of their discussions,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “But if we could come up with a strong bill that deals with this systemic bias that’s been in our police forces for far too long, that would be great. So I’ve encouraged them to talk to one another, and their discussions are making some progress.”

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