WASHINGTON (CN) — Members of the House Rules Committee spent nearly two hours Wednesday debating a police-reform bill named for George Floyd, as lawmakers set the stage for contentious votes this week on a range of issues that also includes statehood for Washington, D.C.
The killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man and father who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, spurred Democratic lawmakers to draft a comprehensive bill on police reform. They are calling it the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
In the other chamber, senators clashed on the issue of police reform Wednesday, as Democrats voted down a competing GOP bill drafted by South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, saying it lacked key provisions for real reform.
Representative Karen Bass, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during the House Rules Committee hearing that the Floyd Act would reimagine policing for the 21st century and hold accountable officers “who fail to uphold the ethic of protecting and serving their communities.”
Along with banning chokeholds, the bill would end qualified immunity for police officers, prohibit no-knock warrants in drug cases, require the use of body cameras and require police departments to collect data on use of force, creating a national registry of misconduct.
“Right now, the world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country, with thousands marching to register their horror at hearing the cry, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Bass said. “People are marching to demand not just change, but transformative change. Change that ends police brutality, that ends racial profiling, that raises the standard of the profession and that holds accountable officers that fail to meet those standards.”
The committee’s Republican members largely took issue Wednesday with the lack of GOP lawmakers involved in the bill’s drafting, saying they had been excluded in conversations during the bill’s genesis.
Representative Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican who testified in opposition to the bill, said that while he had relevant personal relationships and conversations on police reform, he was not asked his thoughts on the legislation before it was drafted.
“Listen, we offered 12 amendments, I didn’t even vote for all 12 of our amendments,” he said. “I get the process, I understand the process, but it became abundantly clear very quickly on, that this bill was going to come in and come out the exact same way.”
Florida Representative Alcee Hastings said lawmakers needed to understand many Americans have experienced personal brutalization by police officers.
His own experiences gave him this perspective, Hastings said, describing Ku Klux Klan burnings he witnessed in his hometown and being physically assaulted in public spaces because of his skin color.
“I’ve seen a man hanging from a tree, black man that I knew, outside of my home city,” said Hastings, a Democrat. “I lived the era of Harry T. Moore and Harriette Moore’s Christmas Day bombing no further than 40 miles from my home and the terror that that beat throughout that era. I witnessed the humiliation of my mother and my father going to the back of a car to relieve themselves, because they couldn’t relieve themselves at a filling station, and then finding themselves at the behest of police, arrested.”
Bass said she had reached across the aisle to Senator Scott to discuss the bill’s advancement to the upper chamber, and spoke with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about the bill’s vote on Thursday.
The legislation goes a long way to preventing violence, she said, which is a good starting place for continued conversation on the reforms. Bass also said it would help perceptions of the law enforcement community by weeding out bad cops.
“One of the other things that I think is so important about the bill is that you would think that law enforcement — and I know from talking to the chiefs and the other union, the Fraternal Order of Police — that they support the idea of national standards and accreditation,” Bass said. “I think that the majority of police officers are professional, they don’t want to work with corrupt people, they don’t want to work with violent folks. They want their profession accepted, respected and uplifted, and I believe that this bill lifts the profession up.”
The committee’s debate Wednesday extended beyond the Floyd Act, as members took up several other bills including one that would Washington, D.C., the 51st state. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia as a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives, spoke in support of the legislation, which is set for a Friday vote.
The House Oversight Committee proposed a D.C. statehood bill in February, and the new version adds transition assistance for the would-be state and permanently increases House membership to 436.
“For me, H.R. 51 also is deeply personal,” Norton said. “My great-grandfather Richard Holmes, who escaped as a slave from a Virginia plantation, made it as far as D.C., a walk to freedom but not to equal citizenship. For three generations my family has been denied the rights other Americans take for granted.”
The committee also debated the Protecting Your Credit Score Act and another bill that would reduce deductibles and co-payments under the Affordable Care Act, making drug prescriptions more affordable.