- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Congressional Black Caucus said Thursday that it had reached an agreement with President Biden on overhauling the nation’s police laws, but questions remain whether the proposal can make it through the Republican-led House.

“We have agreement on how we will continue to work forward both from a legislative standpoint as well as executive and community-based solutions, but the focus will always be on public safety,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, Nevada Democrat and CBC chairman.

Details remain sparse Thursday night over what the agreement entails, but it likely faces little chance of passing the House. Mr. Biden has faced intense pressure from fellow Democrats to overhaul the nation’s police laws after Tyre Nichols’ death at the hands of five Memphis police officers.

“We cannot just paint around the edges because that maintains the status quo,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, New York Democrat. “We need a public health approach to public safety.”

While the lawmakers recognized that a deal on national policing policies is a herculean lift, Mr. Horsford said Mr. Biden, at the very least, could use the upcoming State of the Union address to make the case for it.

“We need him to use that moment during the State of the Union, like he will talk about housing and jobs and investments in protecting Medicare and Social Security, to talk about the importance of keeping our community safe and rooting out bad policing,” he said earlier Thursday.

SEE ALSO: Tyre Nichols’ parents to attend Biden’s State of the Union speech

Adding to the pressure, Mr. Horsford invited Nichols’ family to attend the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died last month after being beaten by five Black police officers during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. The officers, who were part of a plainclothes police unit, were subsequently fired and are facing murder, kidnapping and misconduct charges.

The incident sparked protests and demands that Congress overhaul the nation’s police laws, similar to the push after George Floyd’s death in May 2020 that resulted in the never-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021.

The new negotiations have not begun in earnest among Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Instead, lawmakers are showing that the scars are still fresh from previously failed attempts to broker a legislative deal.

Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican at the forefront of the negotiations, said he was frustrated that Democrats, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, were urging renewed negotiations after having killed legislation on the topic last year.

“I never left the table. But it was Sen. Durbin who filibustered my Justice Act,” said Mr. Scott.

The talks broke down in the last Congress over Democrats’ insistence on revoking police officers’ qualified immunity, a legal principle that shields government officials from lawsuits over their actions in the line of duty.

Democrats say the timing is right to try again.

“I want to rekindle this conversation and if others want to participate, they’re welcome as far as I’m concerned,” said Mr. Durbin.

Democrats still stress that gutting qualified immunity must be part of a deal. But beyond qualified immunity, the two sides are still far apart.

Democrats want the policing bill to include the creation of a federal database for police officers accused of police brutality. Advocates say such a database could ensure that police officers with troubling disciplinary records are not hired in other jurisdictions.

“If a police officer gets fired due to misconduct charges, they should not be able to get hired in another jurisdiction so easily — but that’s exactly what happens now because we don’t have a national database tracking that info,” said Sen. Cory A. Booker, a New Jersey Democrat involved in the talks.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, New York Republican, expressed concern that law enforcement officers would not be given proper due process.

“We probably need a minimum standard for police training throughout the country,” said Mr. D’Esposito, who served in the New York Police Department. “But a national database on police brutality has to be targeted to real brutality. It can’t just be if someone was accused or sued.”

Mr. Scott said his Justice Act was likely the furthest that Republicans would go. The legislation banned the use of chokeholds, increased funding for police departments to adopt policies favoring deescalation over force, and creates a duty for law enforcement to intervene if they see a fellow officer engage in police brutality.

“Why don’t we find common ground [and] make it into a piece of legislation and show the American people that, yes, their elected officials can at times act with common sense,” said Mr. Scott.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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