- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2021

The anniversary of George Floyd’s murder will pass on Tuesday with Congress still haggling over new policing laws, missing that deadline President Biden set for lawmakers to find common ground.

The top Democrats involved in negotiations with Republicans — Rep. Karen Bass of California and Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey — acknowledged the Senate will not be able to strike a deal before Mr. Biden’s deadline.

“It’s not going to happen by Tuesday,” Ms. Bass said.

Indeed, the Senate talks remained deadlocked over Democrats’ demands that police officers lose qualified immunity, which shields officers from being sued for their action in the line of duty.

Qualified immunity is the biggest sticking point that stalled the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act when it reached the upper chamber in early March.

A group of eight progressive House Democrats wrote congressional leaders on Friday demanding that police officers lose qualified immunity. The letter was also sent to Ms. Bass and Mr. Booker.

“As negotiations continue, know this: there can be no true justice in America if we cannot save lives, just like there can be no true accountability in America if we do not eliminate qualified immunity,” wrote the leftist Democrats, led by Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri and including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “Our nation is hurting. Our communities are hurting. Black and brown people who bear the brunt of police violence are hurting. Enacting the reforms included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is not only long overdue, but a matter of responsible policymaking.”

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republicans’ lead in the negotiations, has drawn a line in the sand over preserving the protection for police.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, went as far as to say that if need be, Senate Democrats should rewrite the chamber’s rules to end the filibuster and empower Democrats to force the policing bill through in a party-line vote.

“If we can’t get Republicans to come with us, then let’s get rid of the filibuster because we know what needs to be done. So let’s make sure we pass it,” Ms. Jayapal, Washington Democrat, said in an interview.

The George Floyd bill would also ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants and create a national databank of police officers accused of misconduct.

Some top Democrats have signaled a willingness to negotiate on qualified immunity but the contours of a deal have yet to materialize.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, has said he is willing to leave the liability protection for police in place to win other changes in policing.

“If we don’t get qualified immunity now, then we will come back and try to get it later. But I don’t want to see us throw out a good bill because we can’t get a perfect bill,” he said on CNN.

Democrats had high hopes for enacting changes in policing practices after Floyd’s death ignited racial justice protests both nationally and around the world.

Speaking to a joint session of Congress in April, Mr. Biden challenged lawmakers to put aside their differences and set the anniversary deadline.

“We need to work together to find a consensus,” he said, “But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.”

Unable to bridge the differences with Republicans, Democrats on Thursday downplayed the importance of getting a deal done before the symbolic milestone.

“What is most important is that we get a substantive piece of legislation regardless of the date,” Ms. Bass said.

She declined to define what Democrats are demanding in the talks but broadly characterized their position.

“What needs to happen is that we need to figure out what policies should be in place to prevent the brutality and the deaths,” she said.

Ms. Bass said she will remain in Washington next week to continue negotiations, although the House will not be in session for the Memorial Day holiday.

She remained hopeful of reaching a deal sooner than later. “I don’t think it will be much later,” she said. “But it will not be by Tuesday.”

Mr. Booker told reporters much the same thing. “I’m not really looking at a schedule. I’m just trying to get this bill done — done right. I highly doubt we’ll have it done by Tuesday,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also downplayed the significance of not meeting Mr. Biden’s timeline at her weekly press conference on Thursday.

“I’m not a timetable person,” she said. “You can’t do it until it’s ready and in the best possible way. And that is more valuable than having it ready a couple of weeks earlier.”

The controversy over ending qualified immunity, which is strongly opposed by police unions, is not unique to Washington. States have enacted a range of policing measures in the past year but only two have dealt with the issue, according to an analysis by Third Way, a centrist Washington think tank.

Colorado last year became the first state to eliminate qualified immunity for police officers. As a compromise, it set a $25,000 limit on what officers would have to pay, with their departments picking up the rest. New Mexico followed by banning the immunity on April 7.

Colorado and New Mexico both have Democratic-run legislatures and Democratic governors.
Still, the various actions by the states showed support for making some changes regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, said Third Way in its analysis.

“State legislatures passed a sweeping array of bills that reflect many of the same proposals that were thwarted in Congress. Across the nation they are showing that policing reform is viable in blue, purple, and red states alike,” the report said.

The most common change to policing rules was tighter standards for use of force. Jurisdictions across the country restricted when police officers are allowed to use force and what type of force they were permitted to use, including 10 that banned the use of chokeholds, according to the report.

Nine other states increased police training, particularly in de-escalating violence and addressing racial bias. Nine have increased standards for accrediting officers and five have created independent bodies to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

Polls show voters in both parties strongly support changes to law enforcement rules.

A 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that 35% of Americans rated as “excellent” or “good” when asked how well police use force appropriately. Nearly two-thirds rated their use of force as “fair” or “poor.”

Another Pew poll in July 2020 found that two-thirds of voters want police to face the threat of being sued for their actions, which included 45% of Republicans and 84% of Democrats.

• Kery Murakami can be reached at kmurakami@washingtontimes.com.

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