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Hopes for bipartisan police reform bill raised as senators say they have agreed framework

·2-min read
Hopes for bipartisan police reform bill raised as senators say they have agreed framework
More than a year after civil rights protests swept the nation, Congress says they’re close to passing a police reform package. (AFP via Getty Images)
More than a year after civil rights protests swept the nation, Congress says they’re close to passing a police reform package. (AFP via Getty Images)

The Senate is getting closer to passing a major police reform bill, according to top Republican and Democratic legislators working on a joint bill.

“After months of working in good faith, we have reached an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform," according to a statement from senators Cory Booker and Karen Bass, both Democrats, as well as Republican Tim Scott.

The lawmakers, who had originally discussed Thursday as a potential deadline for negotiations, cautioned that "nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” promising more rounds of talks "over the next few weeks."

The announcement on Thursday that talks were still ongoing did not include any details about the new framework. The senators are reportedly split on key issues like criminal penalties for excessive force and ending qualified immunity, which shields officers from facing lawsuits.

Democrats have been pushing to impose penalties on certain uses of force, while some Republicans and law enforcement organisations argue for maintaining current use of force standards, which are looser and rely more on officers’ judgement.

Senate Republicans have warned that doing away with qualified immunity is a non-starter.

In addition to what Mr Scott called “very big differences” within the Senate, the upper chamber’s police proposal is far more conservative than the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill backed by Mr Floyd’s family which the Democratic House has passed multiple times.

The law would end qualified immunity, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and require body cameras, among other reforms that activists have been calling for in widespread protests throughout the last few years.

President Joe Biden had previously said he wanted to pass police reform by 25 May, the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.

The delay is a reminder of just how little the slim majority of Democrats in Congress have been able to get done in the face of Republican opposition.

President Biden’s Covid recovery package passed without a single Republican vote, via a budgeting process called reconciliation.

Top civil rights priorities like police reform and voting access, however, will likely have to win a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate before passing, meaning a large number of Republicans will have to be onboard.

The slowdown is an echo of the filibuster’s previous history, where slavery and Jim Crow advocates frequently used it stall civil rights legislation.

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