Lawmakers dust off old proposals on police overhauls

Todd Ruger, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The policy ideas Democratic members of Congress will propose this month to address deadly police force have been around for years, but so has the opposition from law enforcement advocacy groups and the lawmakers who support them.

Rep. Steve Cohen first filed a bill to track incidents of deadly police force in the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, which sparked nationwide protests in August 2014.

After police later shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Ohio boy who was holding a toy gun, the Tennessee Democrat introduced another bill in 2015 that would have independent prosecutors review such shootings.

But those bills didn't get a committee markup when Republicans who traditionally back law enforcement priorities controlled the House.

When Democrats regained control of the chamber in 2019, the proposals fell behind other priorities such as presidential oversight, the impeachment investigation, gun control and LGBT rights.

Now, Cohen and other Democratic lawmakers say nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd could generate enough momentum for Congress to act after a video showed a Minneapolis police officer placing his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes despite Floyd saying he couldn't breathe.


"I think now's the time that these bills are going to get the public support they need because they've been brought to the front burner," Cohen, who had asked about his bills at a House Judiciary hearing on the issue in September, told CQ Roll Call. "I think something will definitely get passed through the House. I hope it is bipartisan, I don't know that it will be."

As Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California spoke at an online media event Monday about their plans for a broad Senate bill to address police use of force, the lawmakers and advocates from civil rights groups listed the names of those who had died in encounters with police officers.

"Even police officers themselves are calling for change," Booker said about the current climate, almost six years after the Ferguson protests spread nationwide. Booker was the high-profile mayor of Newark when civil rights abuses piled up against the city police department and the Justice Department investigated, a probe he opposed at first but later embraced.

"The will is there, we need to ensure that laws are changed, legislation is passed," Booker said Monday. "Or you're destined to continue to see these spasms be made ... when awful tragedies are captured on videotape."


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