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GOP Calls for Police Accountability in Senate Justice Act, but Can Democrats and Republicans Agree?

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). (AP Photo)

In response to weeks of nationwide protests, today on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans unveiled their police reform legislation with plans to bring it to the Senate floor as early as next week. 

Republican Sen. Tim Scott (SC), one of three black senators currently in office, spearheaded the bill that aims to rebuild trust between communities of color and law enforcement.

In a press conference Wednesday, Sen. Scott outlined the three main goals of the Justice Act: police reform, accountability, and increased transparency. 

"Too often we're having a conversation in this country about are you supporting the law enforcement community or are you supporting communities of color, this is a false binary choice," argued Scott. "The answer to the question is, 'I support America. You support America. It is not a binary choice. This legislation encompasses that spirit."

Scott believes police officers are overwhelmingly good people, but as a black man who has been stopped by law enforcement numerous times including when walking into the Capitol, he knows reform is needed.

"We find ourselves at a place with a package that I think speaks to the families that I spoke with yesterday who lost loved ones, we hear you," continued Scott. "I think this package speaks very clearly to the young person who's concerned when he's stopped by the law enforcement officers, we see you." 

The bill calls for an end to the use of chokeholds, increases the use of body cameras, and sets up a national database for reporting police incidents that lead to death or severe bodily harm.

"We're serious about making a law here, this is not about trying to create partisan differences, this is about coming together and getting an outcome," said Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

US Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), a former police officer who was shot in the head in the line of duty, introduced the legislation in the House, agreeing it's time to enact meaningful police change.

"As someone who swore an oath to serve and protect my community, I was devastated watching the video of George Floyd dying at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who swore that same oath," said Stauber.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is a co-author of the House-led Justice in Policing Act, criticizes the GOP plan as "heavy on gestures, light on real reform."

"This is not a choice between one side of an aisle or another, it is a choice between meaningful reforms in this moment or making symbolic gestures that will do nothing to save people's lives. It's a choice between action and inaction," Booker said on the Senate floor this week.

The Democrats' plan goes a step further than the GOP's by calling for an end no-knock warrants and qualified immunity, which protects police officers from lawsuits.  

The House is expected to pass their bill by the end of the month, but it is unclear if the Senate will have the sixty votes needed to proceed to debate on the Justice Act next week.

Ultimately, the two sides will have to come together on a compromise bill if any of the proposed ideas are to become law.

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