Sen. Tim Scott says Congress is close to a police reform deal

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the lead Republican negotiator on police reform, says a deal might be close. | Sarah Silbiger/Getty ImagesScott believes his compromise on qualified immunity will get police reform over the Senate finish line. Last summer, in the wake of protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of police, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said he was pessimistic about the chances of the Senate passing a police reform bill. Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and one of just three Black Republicans in all of Congress, is the lead Republican in the Senate on police reform and was responsible for drafting the Justice Act, the GOP’s police reform bill. The bill failed to get 60 votes, the necessary Senate margin, in 2020, with the majority of Democrats voting against it for inadequately handling the problem. Meanwhile, Democrats’ bill, the more expansive George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, passed the House but was not taken up by the then-Republican Senate. In February, the House again passed the Democrats’ bill. Now in control of the Senate floor, Democrats could force a vote — but they still need 10 Republican votes to pass the bill, and the legislation, as it stands, received zero Republican votes in the House. This time around, Scott says negotiations to merge the Democrats’ bill with his Justice Act have been productive, leaving him “hopeful” that a deal will emerge. “This time, my friends on the left aren’t looking for the issue,” Scott said on CBS’s “Face The Nation” Sunday. “They’re looking for a solution. And the things that I offered last year are more popular this year. That gives me reasons to be hopeful.” Scott noted that the provisions both bills have in common are the foundation for compromise legislation — federal funding incentives for departments that ban chokeholds, more grants for body cameras, federally criminalizing lynching, and creating a use-of-force database in the Justice Department in order to document and study how police officers use force. But, as Vox’s Li Zhou explained, the Democrats’ bill goes a lot further. Democrats included a federal ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, a national database for police misconduct in order to minimize the transfer of officers with bad records, prohibiting the distribution of some military weaponry to local police departments, and expanding the DOJ’s power to bring charges against departments. Scott said on “Face the Nation” that some of those differences have already been addressed. “Through negotiations and conversations, we are now closer on no-knock warrants, and chokeholds, and something called section 1033 that has to do with getting government equipment from the military for local police,” he said. “I think we’re making progress there, too. We have literally been able to bring these two bills very close together.” The issue of qualified immunity has been a sticking point in negotiations. Qualified immunity refers to legal protections for police officers that make it difficult to sue them for wrongdoing, and makes civil suits against them likely to fail, as Vox’s Ian Millhiser has detailed. Last year, Scott called the weakening of qualified immunity a “poison pill,” but this year, he has a new compromise. Instead of weakening qualified immunity for individual officers, Scott has proposed allowing civil suits to be brought against departments. Scott wants the qualified immunity compromise to change the culture of policing “How do we change the culture of policing?” Scott said on Sunday. “I think we do that by making the employer responsible for the actions of the employee. We do that with doctors. We do that with lawyers. We do that in most all of our industries. If we do that in law enforcement, the employer will change the culture. As opposed to having one officer change or not change, we’ll have all officers transforming because the departments are taking on more of that burden.” Scott added that his proposal went over well with the family members of victims of police brutality he met with last week. As Vox’s Li Zhou explains, the qualified immunity compromise could have political merit. Last year, Democrats blocked Scott’s bill from passing — a sign of how limited they considered it — and this year, there will need to be substantial changes to both measures in order for either piece of legislation to get the bipartisan backing it requires to advance. Scott’s proposal around qualified immunity could be a start to securing that support, though it would require both Democrats and a number of Republicans to get on board to actually be tenable. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a member of the Judiciary Committee, signaled some openness to it, noting that it was “worth considering, but it’s going to depend on exactly how it’s done.” “That may be a reasonable idea for compromise,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) also told Vox, adding that he still needed to study the idea. “That’s an interesting

May 2, 2021 - VOX
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the lead Republican negotiator on police reform, says a deal might be close. | Sarah Silbiger/Getty ImagesScott believes his compromise on qualified immunity will get police reform over the Senate finish line. Last summer, in the wake of protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of police, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said he was pessimistic about the chances of the Senate passing a police reform bill. Scott, the only Black Republican..