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Democrats to unveil plan Monday to end police racial profiling, use of force

Coming legislation would end 'qualified immunity' doctrine that shields police from lawsuits

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., says now is the "moral moment" to act on policing legislation.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., says now is the "moral moment" to act on policing legislation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House and Senate Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, will announce a legislative initiative Monday to end law enforcement practices of racial profiling and excessive use of force that have plagued the black community for decades, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Pelosi said during her weekly press conference Thursday that Democrats plan not only to address problems black Americans face with police brutality and racial profiling in the legislation that will be announced Monday, but they also want to separately address health, environmental, economic and educational inequalities.

“We want to see this as a time we can go forward in a very drastic way, not incrementally, but in an important way to redress those problems,” the California Democrat said.

Pelosi did not offer many specifics about what will be in the legislative proposal, opting to save that for Monday’s announcement. But one detail she revealed is that the measure would end “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that shields government officials like police from being sued over actions performed on the job.

The underlying goal of the legislation will be to address the loss of trust between police departments and the communities they serve, the speaker said.

“We will not relent until that justice is secured,” Pelosi said.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the topic. Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the panel will hear from community leaders, advocates, academics and law enforcement representatives but specific witnesses have yet to be announced.

“We are reviewing legislative proposals and will consider legislation in the coming weeks,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass said in her own statement Thursday that Democrats for years have proposed legislation to address police brutality. She suggested that now, amid outrage over a Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd by pinning him down with a knee to his neck, is the time for Congress to finally act.

“This is our moral moment — we must look at legislation to address laws that shield police officers from ever being accountable,” the California Democrat said. “We must address the structural conflicts of interest.  We must create a database so that abusive law enforcement officers lose the privilege of being an officer anywhere, not just in a given precinct.”

Bass also mentioned those goals on a press call Wednesday. She said the Black Caucus is putting together a comprehensive bill that will institute better training standards for police and make it easier for officers who use unnecessary force to be prosecuted.

“We anticipate that legislation will be considered before the month is over,” Bass said. “I would speculate the last week of June.” 

The House is not scheduled to be in session for votes until June 30, but House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday he was willing to call the chamber back earlier if policing overhaul legislation were ready to be considered.

The Maryland Democrat said members had submitted more than 40 legislative proposals to the Black Caucus for consideration.

Bass acknowledged that developing legislation that can pass the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate is a challenge.

“I have confidence that legislation will pass the House,” she said. “I do not have that same confidence in the Senate.”

However, Bass sounded hopeful that the public outcry that is occurring across the nation will put pressure on senators, especially those up for reelection this cycle.

“You want to get reelected this time, the vote is on our foot,” she said of the public call for changes to policing practices.

Pelosi, speaking on MSNBC on Wednesday, also expressed hope that the pressure will result in bicameral action.

“We’ll be intense, proactive and, again, because the American people have identified with all of these injustices, we believe, at long last, we may have some success in the United States Senate with it,” she said.

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