Derek Chauvin Trial Renews Focus On Police Reform At Capitol Hill

Tuesday, April 20th 2021, 5:46 pm


The trial and conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd has brought renewed focus to the issue of police reform in Congress. Floyd's death and the protests that ensued last summer led to Democrats and Republicans pushing their own reform measures, but with neither getting over the finish line.

They are back at it again -- but again the two sides seem to disagree on what police reform should look like.

"It can be unsatisfying. it can take longer than we all think it should," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last week, but ultimately the Biden Administration believes the answer to calls for police reform will be the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The George Floyd Act would, among other things, mandate anti-discrimination training, create a registry for police misconduct complaints, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and -- most controversial of all -- make it easier to sue police officers by eliminating qualified immunity.

"I think qualified immunity can become not an obstacle when you explain that it is not taking away rights, it is simply opening the door for expanded rights," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D) TX-18, last month.

Republicans do not agree.

"It’s so anti-law-enforcement," said Sen. James Lankford, (R) OK, in an interview Monday, referring to the entire Democratic bill.

Lankford said ending qualified immunity is a non-starter for Republicans. And tomorrow he and primary author Sen. Tim Scott, (R) SC, are expected to reintroduce the JUSTICE Act, the GOP's preferred path to reform.

"A bill to say here are areas [where] we can deal with the issue of race, how things need to be better in law-enforcement around the country, without defunding the police," said Lankford.

The George Floyd Act was first introduced in 2020; it passed the House but went nowhere in the then Republican-controlled Senate. Likewise, the JUSTICE Act was also originally introduced last summer. Senate Democrats defeated the cloture vote, keeping it from coming up for debate.

"They wouldn’t even debate it at all. We hope we can bring it up this time to be able to debate it, because we think there are really beneficial aspects in it," said Lankford.

That may be wishful thinking, but it is perhaps just as unlikely Democrats will be able to find ten Republicans in the Senate to support their bill, unless they’re willing to make some compromise.