Senate GOP unveils police reform bill that draws Democratic rebukes

Sen. Tim Scott , a South Carolina Republican, argues Wednesday in favor of the GOP's legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement. Scott, the Senate's lone Black Republican, helped lead the effort to write the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act, which discourages the use of chokeholds, requires police departments to release more information on use of force and no-knock warrants, and encourages body cameras and better training. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans unveiled a police reform bill Wednesday that takes a markedly different approach to parallel efforts backed by congressional Democrats.

The Senate GOP bill would give police departments incentives to ban chokeholds, increase the use of body cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and require that prior performance records be taken into greater account when making hiring decisions.

It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants and make lynching a federal crime, among other things.

“When Black Americans tell us they do not feel safe in their own communities, we need to listen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, however, called the GOP bill “inadequate” in a statement. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the GOP approach “does not rise to the moment.”

“We have a tale of two chambers, a glaring contrast between a strong, comprehensive Democratic bill in the House, and a much narrower and much less effective Republican bill in the Senate,” the Democrat from New York said on the Senate floor.

A ‘false, binary choice’

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — a Black Republican who led the Senate GOP police reform effort — told reporters Wednesday that the bill aims to “restore confidence communities of color have in institutions of authority.”

Scott said Senate Republicans are listening to public concerns about law enforcement and noted that he has borne the brunt of racial profiling himself, such as when he was given a warning for failing to use a turn signal soon enough before changing lanes.

“We hear you,” he said.

But Scott also voiced strong support for law enforcement, saying the “overwhelming” number of officers are “good people” who work hard to keep communities safe and orderly.

Supporting either law enforcement or communities of color is a “false binary choice,” he said.

McConnell accelerated the timetable for floor consideration and now plans to bring the GOP bill to the floor for a vote next week — roughly a month after the death of George Floyd while being arrested by a white Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s death sparked protests in Georgia and across the country, accelerating Memorial Day weekend and continuing into this week.

The Senate GOP bill differs in key ways from a Democratic police reform package introduced earlier this month. That bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and would address qualified immunity — an issue Scott called a “poison pill.”

The Democratic legislation would also bar racial and religious profiling, mandate police training in racial profiling and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use-of-force data by race and other characteristics. And it would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials.

The Senate GOP bill does not address racial profiling or the transfer of military equipment to police, Schumer said.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is set to mark up the Democratic measure Wednesday. It has more than 218 co-sponsors, virtually ensuring passage in the House chamber.

Scott said there is significant overlap between Democratic and Republican approaches to police reform and is working with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Black Democrat, on the issue.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would support congressional action on police reform.

Trump signed a modest police reform order Tuesday that strengthens efforts to track police misconduct and uses federal funds to encourage police departments to improve training and certification standards and to work with social workers and other “co-responders” when responding to calls involving homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.

Under the order, the U.S. attorney general will require police credentialing agencies to confirm that departments bar chokeholds except when use of deadly force is permitted by law.

The federal order might not affect officers’ behavior as police departments generally fall under the purview of state and local governments and it also might not dovetail with police reform legislation in Congress.