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Judiciary hearing emphasizes rare bipartisan comity on policing changes

House Judiciary members set aside often-heated partisanship on Wednesday to emphasize common ground

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee aired an eagerness Wednesday to work with Democrats on legislation to address police misconduct but hinted that they would prefer a narrower bill than the broad proposal Democrats want to pass this month.

Gone were the loud voices, overheated cross-talk arguments and sharp partisanship of previous Judiciary Committee hearings in the past year, when the members focused on the impeachment of President Donald Trump or oversight of the administration.

Republicans set a more congenial tone Wednesday. “Let’s work together to make America the great place, to continue to make America the greatest nation ever,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top committee’s top Republican.

[Senate GOP policing plan may hold some compromises for Democrats]

The committee’s hearing comes in the wake of the video-recorded death of George Floyd as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, which sparked nationwide protests demanding changes in how police treat minorities.

Democrats on Wednesday hinted that the title of the bill would be amended at a markup next week to honor Floyd. His brother Philonise testified at the hearing and urged the committee members “to make sure his death isn’t in vain.”

“The people elected you to speak for them, to make positive change. George’s name means something,” Philonise Floyd said. “You have the opportunity here to make your names mean something too.”

Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson said committee members, as friends and fellow Americans, can “work together on meaningful reforms and real results” while still respecting police officers.

“I have faith that we can work together as a committee,” Johnson said. “This is a bipartisan concern and we’ll have bipartisan solutions, I hope. For the future of our country and for generations of Americans to come, we have to do that.”

But Johnson said the “most actionable reforms” and key common ground are around three core concepts: “transparency, training, and termination of those rare bad apples in law enforcement who violate the law and the legitimacy that upholds the character of our legal system.”

The Democrats’ 134-page policing overhaul bill has provisions that would address those issues. It includes requirements to start a government-run national database to track police misconduct and have local and state law enforcement agencies report use-of-force statistics, as well as conduct racial and religious bias training.

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But the Democratic bill has much more. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler pointed to provisions Wednesday that would make it easier for the government to prosecute police misconduct and undo a court-created “qualified immunity” doctrine that makes it all but impossible for citizens to sue police officers for violating their constitutional rights.

“This is a systemic problem that requires a comprehensive solution,” the New York Democrat said. “That is why the Justice and Policing Act takes a holistic approach that includes a variety of front-end reforms to change the culture of law enforcement while also holding bad police officers accountable to separate them from those with a true ethic, ‘to protect and serve.’”

The committee is likely to approve the legislation without major changes since all 24 Democrats on the committee have co-sponsored it.

The House will return to session June 25, a few days earlier than the previously scheduled June 30 return date, to consider the legislation, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced Tuesday.

The Senate is more likely to take up its own policing legislation that will be narrower than the House bill.

Senate Republicans, led by Tim Scott of South Carolina, are drafting their own bill and say they hope to find common ground with Democrats on issues like body cameras, data collection on use of force and training practices to emphasize de-escalation.

Scott said Republicans are looking for solutions that don’t “create a binary choice between supporting law enforcement and supporting communities of color.”

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