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Biden's police reform deadline puts pressure on Congress

Hunter Woodall, Star Tribune on

Published in Political News

President Joe Biden's call for Congress to pass police reform legislation by the anniversary of George Floyd's killing adds urgency to the task of federal lawmakers and the Minnesota delegation to find an agreement.

Biden urged lawmakers to "find a consensus" by May 25. The bill passed by the House, dubbed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, would limit the qualified immunity that can protect officers from legal liability in civil court, ban chokeholds for federal law enforcement and make criminally prosecuting officers easier.

The proposal is dividing Congress and Minnesota's delegation, reflecting a deeper national debate about policing. Minnesota has been at forefront of this debate since Floyd's death nearly a year ago, but there are fresh signs of movement since the conviction two weeks ago of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of Floyd.

With the narrowest of Democratic majorities in the Senate, support from several Republicans will more than likely be necessary to pass a bill out of the chamber. But that could also mean giving up changes prized by progressives.

"It's fine to me to make some concessions, but to make concessions to sort of eliminate the possibility of the legislation having any meaningful impact is dangerous to me," Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Democrat who represents the district where Floyd was killed, said in an interview. "Because I don't want us to want to pass a piece of legislation that will ultimately do nothing just so that we can say we passed something."

What exactly a congressional compromise could look like is unclear. But the day after Biden's speech, new signs of momentum emerged. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican and former Duluth police officer, participated virtually in a closed-door bipartisan discussion on police reform Thursday, according to his spokesperson.

 

"We will take as long as necessary to get this legislation right," Stauber said in a statement.

Stauber and other House Republicans voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act when it passed the House in early March. Stauber sponsored a police reform bill in the House, called the JUSTICE Act, which is less sweeping than the Democrats' bill.

Stauber and an influential group of Republican legislators remain dead set against a proposal to remove what is called qualified immunity, a law that shields state and local government workers, including police officers, from personal liability while performing official duties unless they clearly violate the constitution.

Removing the provision could open new avenues for victims of police brutality or misconduct, or their families, to file lawsuits against officers and police departments. Critics say removing the provision could unleash a wave of unnecessary lawsuits and have a chilling effect on recruiting new officers.

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