Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has confirmed that Senate Republicans will introduce a police reform bill next week, setting up a legislative fight with Democrats over the outline of the bill.
The Republicans’ legislation was drafted by Senator Tim Scott (R., S.C.), a favorite of the Tea Party movement and the first African American senator elected in a southern state since 1881. The bill, known as the JUSTICE Act, seeks to create federal incentives for state and local police to reform policies that may lead to use of unnecessary force or discrimination against African Americans. Scott has spoken of several instances in which he believed police officers had racially profiled him, including on Capitol Hill.
“The JUSTICE Act works to restore the broken trust between communities and color and law enforcement through three essential pieces: reform, accountability, and transparency,” Scott wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Faced with the fact that policing is primarily a local and state, rather than federal, concern, our colleague has nevertheless found a variety of levers that Congress can pull to advance, incentivize, and insist on the changes that we need to see,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. “We need to encourage police departments across America to implement practical reforms, like ending chokeholds, training their officers to deescalate tense situations, and having prior disciplinary records play a greater role in hiring. This bill does that.”
Competing legislation introduced by House Democrats earlier this month would take more proactive measures on the federal level, including a nationwide ban on police use of chokeholds. The Democrats’ bill also lowers the standard for criminal conviction of an officer accused of misconduct. While prosecutors currently must prove that an officer “willfully” disregarded a suspect’s constitutional rights, the bill would make “reckless disregard” of those rights the new standard for conviction.
“The Justice in Policing Act establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America,” said Representative Karen Bass (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The world…is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country.”
Senator Scott’s police reform bill has already drawn criticism from Democrats.
“We cannot waste this historic moment, this singular opportunity–let’s not do something that is a token, half-hearted approach,” Senator Dick Durbin (D., Il.) said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
The Senate will on recess on July 3, and it is unclear whether Republicans and Democrats will pass a final police reform bill by that time.