Senate GOP to propose policing changes in ‘Justice Act’

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The Senate could vote as soon as next week

Senator Tim Scott

FILE – In this Jan. 21, 2020, file photo, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., arrives at the Senate at the Capitol in Washington. Senate Republicans are proposing changes to police procedures and accountability with an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds and new commissions to study law enforcement and race, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press. The package is set to be introduced Wednesday by Scott, the GOP’s lone black Republican, and a task force of GOP senators assembled by Republican leadership. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Republicans are proposing changes to police procedures and accountability with an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds and new commissions to study law enforcement and race, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.

The JUSTICE Act — Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020 — is the most ambitious GOP policing proposal in years, a direct response to the massive public protests over the death of George Floyd and other black Americans.

The package is set to be introduced Wednesday by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the GOP’s lone black Republican, and a task force of GOP senators assembled by Republican leadership.

The 106-page bill is not as sweeping as a Democratic proposal, which is set for a House vote next week, but it shows how swiftly the national debate has been transformed as Republicans embrace a new priority in an election year.

The GOP legislation would beef up requirements for law enforcement to compile use of force reports under a new George Floyd and Walter Scott Notification Act, named for the Minnesota father whose May 25 death sparked worldwide protests over police violence, and Scott, the South Carolina man shot by police after a traffic stop in 2015.

It would also establish the Breonna Taylor Notification Act to track “no-knock” warrants. Such warrants used to be rare, but the 26-year-old was killed after police in Kentucky used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville home.

To focus on ending chokeholds, it encourages agencies to do away with the practice or risk losing federal funds. Many big city departments have long stopped their use. It also provides funding for training to “de-escalate” situations and establish a “duty to intervene” protocol to prevent excessive force.

As the contours of the package emerged in recent days, Democrats panned it as insufficient, as their own bill takes a more direct approach to changing federal misconduct laws and holding individual officers legally responsible for incidents.

But the GOP effort seeks to reach across the aisle to Democrats in several ways. It includes one long-sought bill to make lynching a federal hate crime and another to launch a study of the social status of black men and boys that has been touted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Republican package also includes a bipartisan Senate proposal to establish a National Criminal Justice Commission Act and extends funding streams for various federal law enforcement programs, including the COPS program important to states.

The package includes a mix of other proposals, including tapping the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to create law enforcement training curriculum on “the history of racism in the United States.” Another closes a loophole to prohibit federal law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual acts with those being arrested or in custody.

Expenditures for the bill would be considered on an emergency basis, so as not to count against federal deficits.

The GOP proposal comes amid a crush of activity from Washington as President Donald Trump announced executive actions Tuesday to create a database of police misconduct.

Trump vowed a “big moment” if lawmakers could act to pass legislation. At a Rose Garden event for his executive actions, he declared himself “committed to working with Congress on additional measures.”

The Senate could vote as soon as next week.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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