News

Three Republicans join House Democrats in passing sweeping police reform

Courts & the Law, News, race

Senate GOP unveils police reform bill that draws Democratic rebukes

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is joined by fellow Republican lawmakers for a news conference to unveil the GOP’s legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol June 17, 2020. Scott, the Senate’s lone Black Republican, lead the effort to write the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans unveiled a police reform bill Wednesday that takes a markedly different approach to police reform efforts backed by congressional Democrats.

The Senate GOP bill would incentivize police departments to ban chokeholds, increase the use of body-worn cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and take prior records into greater account when making hiring decisions.

It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants and make lynching a federal crime, among other things.

“When Black Americans tell us they do not feel safe in their own communities, we need to listen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, called the GOP bill “inadequate” in a statement. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) said the GOP approach “does not rise to the moment.”

“We have a tale of two chambers, a glaring contrast between a strong, comprehensive Democratic bill in the House, and a much narrower, and much less effective Republican bill in the Senate,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

A ‘false, binary choice’

GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — a Black Republican who led the Senate GOP police reform effort — told reporters Wednesday that the bill aims to “restore confidence communities of color have in institutions of authority.”

Scott said Senate Republicans are listening to public concerns about law enforcement and noted that he has borne the brunt of racial profiling himself, such as when he was given a warning for failing to turn on a turn signal soon enough before changing lanes.

“We hear you,” he said.

But Scott also voiced strong support for law enforcement, saying the “overwhelming” number of officers are “good people” who work hard to keep communities safe and orderly.

Supporting either law enforcement or communities of color is a “false binary choice,” he said.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) co-sponsored the JUSTICE Act, praising its  ‘commonsense solutions’ for police reform.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC)

“The vast majority of law enforcement officials in North Carolina and across the country were also sickened by the murder of George Floyd, and they need to be a critical part of the solution,” said Senator Tillis. “I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle commit to working with us to find consensus and advance this bill so we can make progress and help heal our country.”

Sen. McConnell accelerated the timetable for floor consideration and now plans to bring the GOP bill to the floor for a vote next week — roughly a month after the death of George Floyd while being arrested by a white Minneapolis police officer.

The Senate GOP bill differs in key ways from a Democratic police reform package introduced earlier this month. That bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and would address qualified immunity — an issue Scott called a “poison pill.”

The Democratic legislation would also bar racial and religious profiling, mandate police training in racial profiling and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use-of-force data by race and other characteristics. And it would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials.

The Senate GOP bill does not address racial profiling or the transfer of military equipment to police, Schumer said.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will mark up the Democratic measure Wednesday. It has more than 218 co-sponsors, virtually ensuring passage in the House chamber.

Scott said there is significant overlap between Democratic and Republican approaches to police reform and is working with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Black Democrat, on the issue.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would support congressional action on police reform.

Trump signed a modest police reform order Tuesday that strengthens efforts to track police misconduct and uses federal funds to encourage police departments to improve training and certification standards and to work with social workers and other “co-responders” when responding to calls involving homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.

Under the order, the U.S. attorney general will require police credentialing agencies to confirm that departments bar chokeholds except when use of deadly force is permitted by law.

It’s unclear how the federal order will affect officers’ behavior as police departments generally fall under the purview of state and local governments, or what effect it may have on police reform legislation in Congress.

COVID-19, News

U.S. House Dems unveil massive $3T pandemic relief bill

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats unveiled an economic relief package of epic proportions Tuesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sweeping legislation carries a whopping $3 trillion-plus price tag — more than the combined total of four coronavirus response bills passed this year.

Democrats called it “bold” and “transformative” and said it is needed to meet the deep and dire health and economic challenges posed by the pandemic. The House is slated to vote on the bill — which is nearly 2,000 pages long — on Friday, according to Roll Call.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not expected to take it up anytime soon, telling reporters Tuesday he wants to pause before moving forward with another coronavirus bill. If and when they do, Republicans are going to insist on “narrowly targeted” legislation that addresses problems rather than fulfills the Democratic Party’s aspirations, he added.

Schumer chastised McConnell on the Senate floor earlier in the day. “We here in Congress have an obligation to do the nation’s business during this time of crisis,” he said. “But at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, the Republican leadership, led by Leader McConnell, is ducking their responsibility, plain and simple.”

The House bill would provide nearly $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial and tribal governments, which are facing massive revenue losses as a result of shutdown orders. The funding is intended to help governments continue to fund police officers, firefighters, teachers, school administrators, health and sanitation workers and other public sector employees. The bill would also establish a “heroes’ fund” to give essential workers hazard pay.

McConnell has indicated resistance to aid for cities and states, but said last month he might be open to such a provision in exchange for legal protections as the economy reopens, according to CNN. He reiterated that stance Tuesday, saying that addressing the “liability issue” is essential to ensuring a smooth reopening.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota called the House bill “a laundry list” of items that reflect Democrats’ long-term political agenda. “It’s not going anywhere, and we all know that,” he said.

The House bill would provide individuals with another round of direct payments, building on legislation passed in March that approved payments of $1,200 for many adults and $500 for many children. This bill would provide additional payments of $1,200 per family member, with a cap of $6,000 per household.

It would also expand a loan program for small businesses so that it reaches underserved communities and nonprofit organizations; strengthen an employee retention tax credit so more employers can keep employees on the payroll; and help unemployed workers maintain employer-provided health insurance coverage.

The legislation would also include more money for testing, tracing and treatment; extend unemployment benefits; bolster housing assistance and food security programs; and provide resources to ensure safe elections and other government functions.

And it would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor to set infection-control standards.

COVID-19, News

Will Congress send aid to ailing local news outlets?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – Image www.senate.gov

WASHINGTON — Politicians are banding together to try to rescue local news media from economic collapse during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing to fix a small business lending program so that it applies to local news publishers and broadcasters affiliated with larger organizations.

A House bill containing a provision that would do that could arrive as early as this week.

The effort has bipartisan support among members of Congress. But it is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will lend his support to the provision.

The House bill is expected to contain numerous other provisions and carry a multi-trillion-dollar price tag. McConnell has signaled resistance to some Democratic priorities, such as aid to state and local governments, and told reporters Monday that he doesn’t feel “urgency” to act immediately.

Schumer took to the Senate floor Tuesday to chastise McConnell for his lack of action this month. “We here in Congress have an obligation to do the nation’s business during this time of crisis,” he said. “But at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, the Republican leadership, led by Leader McConnell, is ducking their responsibility, plain and simple.”

The Paycheck Protection Program, approved in March and replenished in April, gives loans to small businesses to help them stay afloat during the pandemic. But some small broadcasters and publishers that are affiliated with large “parent” organizations aren’t eligible for relief.

Last month, Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin took the lead writing a letter urging congressional leaders to update the program so that more local news publishers and broadcasters could access federal loans.

More than 120 lawmakers signed on to the letter, including Representatives Alma Adams and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina.

“Congress must do everything possible to protect local news sources during this crisis to safeguard our democracy and keep our communities informed as our nation responds to the crisis,” the lawmakers wrote.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield

Rep. Alma Adams

Informing the public is an essential service, especially during a pandemic, said Danielle Coffey, senior vice president and general counsel of the News Media Alliance. But many news outlets aren’t going to be able to continue to meet expenses without federal relief.

“Every other business in the world is getting a loan,” she said. “It’s just not right.”

Lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers are also pressing President Donald Trump — who regularly bashes the news media — to take action in support of local journalism.

More than half of House lawmakers and three-quarters of U.S. senators have signed letters urging the Trump administration to direct federal advertising dollars toward local media outlets. Read more

Higher Ed, News, Trump Administration

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