Lawmakers miss deadline for bipartisan police reform deal

Senate Television via AP

Whatever happened to that police reform legislation that became a top priority after the death of George Floyd? The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was passed in the House of Representatives in March. It then moved to the Senate where it has languished ever since. Two loosely set deadlines for an agreement among senators on the police reform package have been missed. Thursday the senators taking the lead on negotiations announced that some guidelines have been agreed to but they will miss today’s deadline.

Rep. Karen Bass of California introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the House last June after the death of Floyd. She is now negotiating the Senate agreement with Republican Senator Tim Scott and Democrat Senator Cory Booker. They released a joint statement Thursday that nothing has been agreed on and there is “much more work to be done” but they have agreed on a framework for their final proposal. It’s all or nothing.

“There is still more work to be done on the final bill, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. Over the next few weeks we look forward to continuing our work toward getting a finalized proposal across the finish line.”

The bill introduced by Bass and twice passed in the House had no Republican support. The issue of police reform isn’t one exclusively for Democrats, though. Senator Scott wrote a bill and introduced it in the Senate, the Justice Act. Democrats quickly shot it down. Democrats in the Senate had no appetite for allowing a black Republican to get credit for a piece of legislation on such a hot button issue. The Democrats wouldn’t even offer up amendments to make it more acceptable, they just wanted to kill it.

Now that Joe Biden is president and Democrats control both the House and the Senate, times are different. Originally, Democrats in the House wanted the bill to move through the Senate and be signed into law by Biden on the anniversary of Floyd’s death. That didn’t happen, nor did another deadline. A tentative deadline was last set for today but this, too, will come and go without an agreement. The Senate will adjourn at the end of its business today until July 12. Then both the House and Senate are in session for only a few weeks before the long summer recess.

Today is the day that the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of murdering Floyd, Derek Chauvin, is scheduled to be sentenced. A major sticking point in the police reform bill, at least on the Republican side, is that of qualified immunity.

The final outline of the bill is still unclear, though it’s believed that qualified immunity — the powerful legal doctrine that shields law enforcement and other public officials from liability in civil lawsuits — was one of the main sticking points.

The original version of the police reform bill also sought to broaden the scope of the federal civil rights provision that prohibits officers from “willfully” denying someone of their constitutional rights, a standard of proof that is incredibly difficult to achieve in court — something Republicans have also balked at.

Scott, however, has previously hinted that a change to the statute is already off the table.

Cory Booker is pushing for criminal penalties for use of excessive force but law enforcement groups and some Republicans don’t want to change the existing standards. Booker didn’t comment on any possible timeframe for a hammered-out agreement. Dick Durbin said the quiet part out loud, though, yesterday. The longer the negotiations go on, the more complicated it gets.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), also a police reform negotiator, said before the chamber left for recess their statement “makes it clear that we haven’t agreed on everything. Until we do, we’re not going to claim victory.”

Earlier Thursday he said he was worried about the prospect of talks lasting too much longer.

“It gets complicated,” he said.

Why would that be? My guess is that it gets more complicated, for the Democrats and the Defund the Police movement, because the American public has grown tired of the abuse law enforcement has encountered. Especially during the Summer of Love, after the death of George Floyd, police officers were subjected to random attacks like buckets of water being dumped on them on the streets of New York City. Remember that? Law enforcement officers in large Democratically-controlled cities are resigning in record numbers. Those that can are leaving rather than put up with their working conditions.

Criminal activity and violence have become such an issue in some cities that even Joe Biden can’t ignore them. He rambled off some words on the topic Wednesday but his main focus is on gun control, not justice for victims of crime. White House press secretary Jen Psaki denies that Biden’s newfound attention to violent crime will conflict with the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden’s plan to address the rise in violent crime won’t derail ongoing Senate negotiations of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

‘He does not feel like they are conflicting,’ she said of the president. ‘And I don’t think you’ve heard from any of the negotiators on the Hill that they feel they are conflicting either,’ Psaki said at Tuesday press briefing.

The Defund the Police movement and those on the left who want to criminalize law enforcement are facing a backlash from law-abiding Americans. The frontrunner in the NYC mayoral race made a point of saying that his support of law enforcement is the way forward. He’s a retired police officer himself. Let’s hope that Tim Scott holds his ground in the Senate negotiations and isn’t rolled like Republicans were in the infrastructure deal.