House Tees Up Vote on Election and Police Reform Bills

The U.S. House of Representatives Monday approved debate parameters for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 and the For the People Act. 

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. (Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. House of Representatives Monday approved debate parameters for two bills that could have sweeping effects on U.S. elections and the way police interact with citizens. 

Both bills are resurrections of legislation the House previously passed that stalled in the Senate, and members voted to approve a rule about debate provisions Monday by a 218–207 margin. Both bills will be further debated later this week.

The For the People Act, H.R. 1, includes provisions from its 2019 counterpart that was never voted on by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

Some of those provisions include automatic voter registration, campaign finance and disclosure reforms, and other proposals to streamline voter registration, including providing voter registration information to secondary schools and grants to states to recruit and train poll workers.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, H.R. 1280, is the same legislation that was passed a month after Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man and the bill’s namesake, was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Criminal prosecution of Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes causing his death on May 25, 2020, begins March 8.

Floyd’s death inspired millions worldwide to protest in support of racial justice and law enforcement reform, which is what the bill would work towards achieving if signed into law.

Some of the bill’s provisions include an outright ban on carotid holds, a prohibition of no-knock warrants in drug cases and the creation of a national registry for police misconduct that would make it more difficult for problematic officers to switch jurisdictions without a comprehensive tracing of their work history.

The White House on Monday urged the House to pass H.R. 1280. 

“To make our communities safer, we must begin by rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the people they are entrusted to serve and protect,” a White House statement said Monday. “We cannot rebuild that trust if we do not hold police officers accountable for abuses of power and tackle systemic misconduct — and systemic racism — in police departments.”

A rule for both bills was reported favorably from the House Rules Committee on Monday where U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, noted the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 had support from some law enforcement officers.

“If this legislation had been law of the land several years ago, Eric Garner and George Floyd would be alive today because the bill bans chokeholds,” Jackson Lee said. “If the bill had been law last year, Breonna Taylor would not have been shot to death in her sleep because no-knock warrants for drug offenses would have been illegal. If a national registry had been in effect it would have revealed that the officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice had been fired from another department and had a propensity for violence.”

Lawmakers debated the rule on the House floor for a little under an hour and Republicans voiced their dissatisfaction with both bills.

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole bemoaned Democrats’ stonewalling of Republican amendments to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 during the Rules Committee’s hearing earlier that afternoon — noting the issue of police reform was one both parties could compromise on.

“Republicans and Democrats alike agree that reforms are necessary,” Cole said. “We all watched the tragedy of George Floyd unfold last summer and we all watched the resulting protest, and we all agree that action is necessary.”

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, a Georgia Republican stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year, said the bill was “nothing more than a get cops killed campaign.”

“It sends one clear message: Democrats hate law enforcement,” Green said. “This bill does not bring justice to victims; it just takes revenge on all the men and women in uniform.”

Congressman Joseph Morelle, a New York Democrat, said the time for incremental changes to the way law enforcement operates in the country was over. The massive reimagining of that system began with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, he said.

“Equal justice under law was an empty promise for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, for countless others in every corner of America and for countless more still to come, unless we take bold, decisive action,” Morelle said. “Indeed, it is up to each of us to make the changes necessary to finally fulfill the promise of equal justice.”

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