The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, June 26, 2020 1:00 am

House OKs police reforms

Trump threatens to veto bill if it gets past Senate

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – House Democrats approved a far-reaching police overhaul Thursday, a vote heavy with emotion and symbolism as a divided Congress struggles to address the global outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Capitol steps, challenging opponents not to allow the deaths to have been in vain or the outpouring of public support for changes to go unmatched. But the collapse of a Senate Republican bill leaves final legislation in doubt.

“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words – 'I can't breathe' – and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said. She said the Senate faces a choice “to honor George Floyd's life or to do nothing.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is perhaps the most ambitious set of proposed changes to police procedures and accountability in decades. Backed by the nation's leading civil rights groups, it aims to match the moment of demonstrations that filled streets across the nation. It has almost zero chance of becoming law.

The 236-181 House vote was largely on party lines. All seven Republicans from Indiana voted against it, and both Democrats voted for it.

On the eve of the vote, President Donald Trump's administration said he would veto the bill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also said it would not pass the Republican-held chamber.

Lawmakers who have been working from home during the COVID-19 crisis were summoned to the Capitol for an emotional, hours-long debate. Dozens voted by proxy under new pandemic rules.

During the day, several Democratic lawmakers read the names of those killed, shared experiences of racial bias and echoed support of Black Lives Matter activists.

Republican lawmakers countered the bill goes too far and failed to include GOP input. “All lives matter,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. New York Rep. Pete King said it's time to stand with law enforcement, the “men and women in blue.” House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy decried the “mob” of demonstrators.

At one point Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., stood up to say he just didn't understand what was happening in the country – from Floyd's death to the protests that followed. Several Black Democratic lawmakers rose to encourage him to pick up a U.S. history book or watch some of the many films now streaming about the Black experience in America.

The Democrats' bill and the collapsed Senate measure share common elements that could be grounds for a compromise. Central to both would be the creation of a national database of use-of-force incidents, which is viewed as a way to provide transparency on officers' records if they transfer from one agency to another. The bills would restrict police chokeholds and set up new training procedures, including beefing up the use of body cameras.

The Democratic bill goes much further, mandating many of those changes, while also revising the federal statute for police misconduct and holding officers personally liable for damages in lawsuits. It also would halt the practice of sending military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.


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