- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Sen. Mike Braun introduced his bill to rein in liability protections for police officers on Tuesday, an olive branch he hopes will bridge the partisan divide on policing.

“It really hits the sweet spot of not hampering police departments with frivolous lawsuits but puts some clarity into what’s evolved over time to where it’s difficult to hold either an individual or a department responsible for some of most egregious violations,” Mr. Braun, Indiana Republican, told The Washington Times.

Qualified immunity is a provision that protects government officials — including officers — from civil lawsuits if they violate individuals’ constitutional rights while acting in their official capacity.

Mr. Braun explained that the doctrine has evolved over time, making it now nearly impossible to hold individuals or departments accountable.

His legislation would try to find a middle ground by limiting protections but not leaving officers entirely exposed. His bill would make departments as well as individuals responsible for “egregious violations.”



“I think it’s a job that has an inherent risk, kind of complexities to it that you cannot eliminate it completely,” he said. “But in instances like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor — those would be examples where there needs to be accountability.”

“I think if we don’t get to the heart of transparency and accountability — you can do it as a smart way — we may not solve the issue in the long term,” he added.

Mr. Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed after a white Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Ms. Taylor was shot multiple times in her apartment after officers entered at night, on the basis of a “no-knock” warrant.

Mr. Brooks was shot in the back after struggling with police in a parking lot, during which authorities said he took a taser from officers.

Their deaths have ignited a renewed debate around racial inequality and policing in the U.S. for the past several weeks.

While the House Democrats’ police package eliminates qualified immunity for law enforcement, the Senate GOP’s bill does not address the issue at all.

The White House and leading Republicans have called it a “poison bill” and a “red line” that will undermine officer’s ability to act with any force, but for Democrats its a key issue to adequately address accountability gaps.

While he expects to have bipartisan interest on his bill, Mr. Braun estimates that the GOP conference is evenly split between those staunchly against changes to qualified immunity, those uncertain, and those feeling like its an inherent part of conservative values.

“How as Republicans, can we not be for transparency and individual responsibility and accountability for your actions?” he said.

Mr. Braun’s bill has been getting support from conservative groups who want to get a bipartisan deal passed.

Holly Harris, president and executive director of the Kentucky-based Justice Action Network, praised Mr. Braun for helping to “tear down the partisan wall that is stifling good-faith efforts at real policing reform.”

Conservative advocacy group Freedom Works is also endorsing the measure. Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs, said qualified immunity is an example of judges infringing on legislative powers.

Mr. Braun’s proposal stands as its own measure, but as a co-sponsor of the Senate GOP package, he’s also trying to add it on as an amendment.

It’s unclear yet if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow amendments on the package.

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has set up a procedural test vote on Mr. Scott’s policing overhaul legislation for Wednesday morning. Republicans need to get at least seven Democrats to join them in order to get the package to a final vote.

Mr. Braun said, if the bill fails, qualified immunity could be the key to keeping alive hope that a policing overhaul can actually be accomplished this year.

“The bill will be out there as a template that everybody can look at,” he said. “Because I don’t think the issue is going to go away. And I’m proud to have my name on it as a first attempt to do something other than kick the can down the road.”

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