CHN: House Passes Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, But the Path to Enactment is Murky

Both the House and Senate took up policing reform bills last week, with very different results. The House passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, while a narrower bill in the Senate was blocked by Democrats who felt it didn’t go far enough.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120) was approved by the House on June 25; three Republicans joined all Democrats in supporting the measure. According to materials from the House Judiciary Committee, the bill would ban chokeholds by federal officers and places limits on their use by state and local officers, establish a national database to track police misconduct, and make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court, eliminating “qualified immunity” that shields police officers from lawsuits (but, disappointing advocates, the legislation for the first time writes qualified immunity into statute for other public employees). The bill also bans no knock warrants in drug cases and bans racial profiling. The bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate, and the White House has said President Trump would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights (LCCHR), said in a statement, “We applaud the House for taking critical action toward meaningful accountability in policing that will help curb state sanctioned violence by law enforcement. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of the Black and Brown people killed by police demand structural change to shift police culture and practices. The Senate must now take up this legislation, work to strengthen it, and pass the bill.”

LCCHR led a group of nearly 140 organizations, including CHN, in urging senators to oppose a procedural move to move forward with the Senate bill (S. 3985) because the bill did not do enough to reform current policies. The groups said the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act (S. 3985) “falls woefully short of the comprehensive reform needed to address the current policing crisis and achieve meaningful law enforcement accountability. It is deeply problematic to meet this moment with a menial incremental approach that offers more funding to police, and few policies to effectively address the constant loss of Black lives at the hands of police.” Politico reported that the bill would require disclosures about the use of force and provide incentives for chokehold bans; it would not limit qualified immunity for police officers. Fifty-five senators voted to move forward with the bill, but 60 votes were needed to proceed.

On June 16, President Trump issued an Executive Order on policing that called for police departments to ban chokeholds except when an officer feels his or her life is endangered. It also creates a national database to track officers with multiple instances of misconduct. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the order “falls sadly and seriously short” of what is needed. The House Judiciary Committee put out a comparison piece showing the similarities and differences between the House bill, the Senate bill, and the President’s Executive Order.

With partisan differences on the ideas offered in the House and Senate policing reform bills, the path to get a bill passed into law is unclear.

criminal justice
policing reform