Congress moves forward with reforms to qualified immunity for police enforcement officers

Members of Congress are moving forward with discussions over police reform legislation after negotiations stalled last summer.

Spurred by the guilty verdicts this week against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty in the death of George Floyd, several lawmakers have convened talks this week on measures to address police violence. A main talking point in negotiations has been reforms to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits for constitutional violations. The sweeping reform bill named for Floyd that passed the lower chamber in March would eliminate qualified immunity, but Republicans fear such a step would open officers who acted in good faith to liability.

The measure would also change Section 242 of the U.S. Code to require a jury to decide whether a law enforcement officer acted with reckless disregard in order to convict, rather than the current standard of “willfulness.” Congresswoman Karen Bass, who spearheaded the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, told reporters she is engaged in informal negotiations with Republican Senator Tim Scott and Democratic Senator Cory Booker over police reforms. Scott introduced his own proposal in the Senate last year, which has many similarities to the House-passed bill, but does not address qualified immunity for officers. The bill was blocked last year by Senate Democrats. Bass, Booker and Scott had a conversation about next steps for police reform legislation on Thursday afternoon, but Bass said it was not an “in-depth” discussion.

“We hope to go to formal talks with the blessing of our leadership. But we do not have that yet. We’re not there yet,” Bass, a Democrat from California, told reporters at the Capitol after the meeting. “The main point is that we have to figure out a way to prevent these shootings from continuing to happen. And until officers are held accountable, there’s no reason to think they won’t happen, as we’ve seen over the last couple of days,” Bass said. She stated that it was “essential” to retain provisions on qualified immunity and Section 242 in a proposal changing policing practices.

Following the discussion with Bass and Booker, Scott, from South Carolina, told reporters he is “optimistic” about the future of their negotiations. Booker said he had been given “wide latitude” by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and noted other lawmakers such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin were participating in discussions. The call to build on the momentum created by the Derek Chauvin case by enacting sweeping reforms will only grow louder as time passes. President Biden said on Tuesday that Chauvin’s conviction “can be a giant step forward” for the nation, but that “it’s not enough.” “We can’t stop here,” he declared.





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