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House, Senate Police Reform Bills Differ On Chokeholds, Warrants, Qualified Immunity

House Democrats and Senate Republicans rolled out potential police reform bills amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, but they differ on police tactics and officer immunity.

While the two bills increase funding for body cameras, the House bill relies on the federal government to take the lead on police reform while the Senate bill provides incentives for state and local governments to do so. They specifically differ with regard to chokeholds, no-knock warrants, misconduct databases and qualified immunity, The Hill reported.

Democratic California Rep. Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, sponsored the House bill, while Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott introduced the Senate bill.

The House and Senate bills target chokeholds, but the House bill includes legislation seen as more strict toward the police tactic.

The House bill would make chokeholds and any maneuver that blocks the intake of oxygen or the movement of blood to the brain illegal. Such actions were seen in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was killed after an NYPD officer held him in a chokehold, and the recent death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee over Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, video of the incident showed.

The Senate bill does not explicitly ban chokeholds, but disincentivizes police departments from allowing them by withholding federal grants from departments that continue to use them. The bill instead encourages police to restrain citizens in ways that do not restrict their breathing.

The bill also allows the use of chokeholds when “deadly force is authorized.”

On no-knock warrants, the House bill bans their use. The tactic was frequently used in drug-related cases but was widely criticized in March after 26-year-old Breonna Taylor died after Louisville police officers entered her apartment unannounced. Taylor was shot eight times by officers, who had a no-knock warrant pertaining to a drug-related case that did not involve Taylor.

The Senate bill does not ban no-knock warrants, but instead requires that departments keep track of when they are used and report their data to the federal government on a yearly basis. The reports would be released to the public, and departments that fail to comply would see a decrease in their federal funding similar to the bill’s provisions regarding chokeholds. 

With regard to previous police misconduct, the House bill calls for a federal database that would record individual officers’ misconduct in an effort to prevent them from being rehired in a different precinct.

The Senate bill said that state and local jurisdictions would have to report all officer-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents to the FBI each year. The FBI would then release those records to the public, and like the provisions regarding chokeholds and no-knock warrants, jurisdictions that fail to comply would see cuts to their federal funding.

Qualified immunity, which shields officers from being sued over potential misconduct and civil rights violations, has proved to be the most contentious issue between the two competing bills.

The House Bill would allow police officers to be sued by citizens who felt that their civil rights had been violated, and would make it easier for victims of police brutality to seek civil damages against officers and police departments.

The Senate bill designated any changes to qualified immunity as a non-starter, though Scott said that he was open to a “decertification” process for abusive officers. Instead, the bill focuses on providing additional funding and resources to improve officers’ deescalation skills.

“From the Republican perspective and the president sent the signal that qualified immunity is off the table. They see that as a poison pill on our side,” Scott said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Written by Andrew Trunsky

Andrew Trunsky is a contributor to The Schpiel.

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