The NCSL Blog

19

By Lucia Bragg

Weeks of protests across the nation following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody have drawn swift and ongoing responses on the federal level.

In this June 12, 2020, photo, Promise Goodwine, of Tampa, Fla., protests on a part of 16th Street renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. More Americans now say police brutality is a serious problem that too often goes undisciplined and unequally targets black Americans. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows a dramatic shift in the nation’s public opinion on policing and race. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)Police reform legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate in recent weeks, while President Donald Trump signed an executive order on policing on June 16.

Senate

On June 17, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act. Scott led a Senate task force in drafting the legislation that included including Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

As introduced, the bill:

  • Reauthorizes the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) Program and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) programs for five years, at $800 million and $400 million, respectively.
  • Requires reporting on the use of force and increases penalties for false police reports.

For noncompliance, the bill:

  • Penalizes states 20% of the state formula award under Byrne JAG.
  • Penalizes states up to an additional 20% of the state formula for local government noncompliance.
  • Penalizes local governments 20% on direct Byrne-JAG award.
  • Increases penalty to 25% for subsequent years.
  • Reallocates funding to states and localities in compliance
  • Requires reporting on no-knock warrants.

For noncompliance, the bill:

  • Penalizes states 20% of the state formula award under Byrne JAG.
  • Penalizes states up to an additional 20% of the state formula for local government noncompliance.
  • Penalizes local governments 20% on direct Byrne-JAG award.
  • Requires maintenance and sharing of disciplinary records for officer hiring consideration.
    • Bars state and local governments who do not comply from access to Byrne JAG funds
  • Authorizes $112 million for a new Compliance Assistance Grants program to states and local governments to assist in the JUSTICE Act required information collection and reporting.
    • Authorizes $100 million for the new body-worn camera grant program, is awarded by formula and requires a 50% state-local match.
    • Requires state and local governments to create a policy on officer discipline for noncompliance, and penalizes state and local governments without a policy 20% of the award
  • Authorizes $150 million for new grant programs within Byrne JAG on training in de-escalation, duty to intervene, alternatives to use of force, and responses to mental health crises.
    • Requires the Department of Justice to develop and provide training on de-escalation, implementation and fulfilment of duty to intervene policies.

According to Senate leadership, a vote on the JUSTICE Act could come before the July 4 recess. While the House and Senate bills share some elements in common, it is likely that the bills will go to conference after each is passed in its respective chamber.

House

House and Senate Democrats introduced the Justice in Policing Act on June 8. The House version is sponsored by Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). The Senate version is sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

As introduced, the bill would:

  • Reduce the threshold for defining police misconduct from “willfully” violating constitutional rights to doing so with knowing or reckless disregard.
  • Weaken the qualified immunity for civil lawsuits that broadly shields police officers from being liable for damages for rights violations.
  • Ban chokeholds like the one used by police in the death of Floyd, as well as no-knock warrants, which led to the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March.
  • Designate lynching as a federal crime.
  • Create a national registry of police violations.
  • Require federal police officers to wear body cameras.
  • Place new limits on federal funding for local and state police, requiring bias training and the use of de-escalation tactics for grants to be approved.
  • Curtail the transfer of military weaponry to state and local police.

Democratic leaders have said that the House will return to Washington to vote on the bill June 25, a week earlier than initially planned.

White House

President Trump signed the “Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities” on June 16. The measure would ban chokeholds nationwide, except when an officer’s life is at risk, under a new credentialing process for law enforcement agencies. The order would establish a database for tracking police officers with a record of excessive use-of-force complaints. The measure would also incentivize police departments to adopt best practices and emphasize co-responder programs requiring social workers and police to respond together to nonviolent calls involving mental health, addiction and homeless issues.

Trump has said he is willing to support congressional legislation aimed at reforming some police behavior–specifically those that “encourage” police departments to hold officers to a higher standard.

Additional Resources

Lucia Bragg is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.