Senate GOP unveils police reform bill that seeks to discourage use of choke holds

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans unveiled their version of police reform legislation Wednesday after weeks of nationwide protests over law enforcement treatment of Black Americans, setting up a battle with Democrats who are advancing a more sweeping version of reforms in the House of Representatives.

The bill, put together by the Senate's lone Black Republican, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, doesn’t ban chokeholds but incentivizes their discontinued use by withholding federal funding if police departments don’t certify that they’ve stopped using the deadly technique.

It also requires police departments to keep and update disciplinary information on officers and share them with other departments when an officer tries to get a job, but does not call for a national database to track complaints against individual officers. And it focuses on data collection about other controversial police practices, including no-knock warrants and use of force that results in serious injury or death.

The measure does not include a provision to eliminate qualified immunity, a legal mechanism that protects police officers from being personally liable for their actions while on the job. The idea of curbing that did not gain widespread buy-in from other Republicans, including the president who has said he would not support a police reform bill if it was included. Qualified immunity is a central component in the Democrats’ bill.

Another major difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ bill is the use of federal funds. Democrats don’t provide new federal funding to implement their reforms while the Republican bill provides funding through Department of Justice grants for new training and de-escalation programs.

The GOP bill comes at a pivotal moment in the country on an issue that Republicans had been reluctant to address but have swiftly moved on after protests swept the nation following the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Scott, who has publicly detailed instances when he has been racially profiled by the police both in his home state and inside the U.S. Capitol, led his colleagues in crafting the legislation and unveiled it at a Wednesday morning news conference where he was joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

House and Senate Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus and Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, unveiled their legislation earlier this month, and the House Judiciary Committee is marking it up Wednesday. It is expected to be voted on in the House next week.

McConnell said that he is going to move Scott’s legislation to the floor next week, setting up a clash between the Democratic-led House and the Republican-led Senate on the legislation.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that Democrats have called inadequate.

The death of Floyd has moved Republicans farther along on the issue of police reform than they have been in the past, but they are resistant to creating any national standards of policing.

But the use of chokeholds has come under specific scrutiny, a broad term to used to describe the blocking of air and blood. Local police departments have begun banning them in the wake of Floyd’s death, but how often they are used is relatively unknown.

Failure to comply with data collection on no-knock warrants and body camera use in the Republican bill results in a reduction of federal funds. Police departments can apply for $1 million grants to implement the data collection.

The bill also increases the punishment for officers filing false police reports, increases grants for the use of body cameras and includes the anti-lynching legislation that has was blocked in the Senate.

It also requires police departments to keep and update disciplinary records of officers and share the records with other local departments when an officer moves departments.

While the bill is expected the gain the support of most Republicans, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said that the measure doesn’t go far enough.

“I've been disappointed that we haven't as a Republican Conference been more aggressive here,” Braun said. He plans to introduce his own legislation eliminated qualified immunity.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, also introduced a bill that would ban no-knock warrants, a measure that was not included in Scott’s bill.