"This Time It Is Different" - Senate GOP Releases Draft Police Reform Bill

White House officials told Fox News Wednesday morning that the White House's plan for policing reform would involve legislation and executive orders, and present a credible alternative to the more radical agenda being pushed by the Democrats, who are working on a draft bill that would, among other measures, strip protections that experts say are critical for the safety of law enforcement officials while opening them up to personal liability.

Tim Scott

Conservative critics like Tucker Carlson have slammed the Democrats for kowtowing to "professional activists" who advocate for extreme policies like abolishing police because "that's what professional activists do". Even Joe Biden, knowing his chances of beating Trump rely just as much on winning over swing voters in the midwest as the "Bernie Bros" across the country, demurred when he was pressed to commit to police abolition.

As we await more details from the White House on its plan (including the executive orders that will purportedly be a part of it), the Wall Street Journal, the Hill, CBS News and a handful of other media orgs rolled out stories outlining the GOP's legislative agenda, which is surprisingly progressive for a party that has heretofore dragged its feet on this issue. This, of course, reflects polling which shows that the vast majority of Democrats and, for the first time, a slight majority of Republicans believe that police brutality is a problem which needs to be fixed. A group of several GOP senators led by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, is leading the Senate's development of its alternative legislation.

Beating his kente-cloth-wearing rivals to the punch, Scott released a draft of what the GOP has branded the "JUSTICE Act", or the "Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere" Act to the press on Tuesday night.

The draft bill includes 10 sections related to police reporting, accountability, training and relations with the community. These include the George Floyd-Walter Scott Notification Act, which would tie grant eligibility to the reporting of uses of force violations that cause death or serious injury to the FBI data collection (which the Washington Post proved was seriously lacking by compiling a database of its own chronicling police killings). 

Also included is increased funding for departments to buy body cameras, and mandatory reduction of federal money to states that fail to mandate the wearing of body cameras, tying grant funding to required training on deescalation tactics and requiring states to maintain a system for sharing records of law enforcement officers, among other provisions.

Scott met with top officials at the White House on Tuesday, and is working closely with a handful of fellow GOP senators including  Mike Braun of Indiana, who has offered to help Scott, and says he thinks there is "a real appetite" for meaningful reforms.

"I think though that instead of us sitting on our hands, we're going to be doing something, and I'm glad we are," Braun stold CBS News. "I think for the sake of law enforcement, there are protocols and procedures they need to look at in depth so these horrific incidents are just completely eliminated from the landscape, to the extent we can. And I think this is different this time." Going even further, Braun insisted he would support an end to qualified immunity for police officers, which would make them liable for on-the-job abuses. President Trump has already spoken out against this on Twitter.

However, civil rights activists increasingly see it as a necessity, as Derek Chauvin, the officer seen on video killing George Floyd, and who has been charged with 2nd degree murder and manslaughter, infamously had more than a dozen writeups in his file at the time of the incident complaining about discrimination and misconduct.

Even Mitch McConnell has vowed to move ahead with police reform, while a former GOP senate aide told WSJ that there's "a majority in both parties" who agree on a number of proposals, some of which have already been dismissed by the White House.

The Republicans’ plan will respond to the “obvious racial discrimination that we have seen on full display on our television screens over the last two weeks,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). The early support for legislative changes could quickly fizzle in an election year or be derailed by policy debates. But Republicans said there was a new willingness to engage on the issue, and recent polls have shown broad public concern over police treatment of black Americans.

"Both parties are responding to the moment and to the voices of strong majorities of Americans in both parties who are saying that this needs to be looked at," said former Senate GOP leadership aide Brian Walsh.

For example, Braun supports developing a national public registry of police misconduct. the fear of being singled-out online would certainly be a major deterrent to police against abusing their power, though it might also inadvertently deter them from doing their jobs, some experts have warned.

Braun added that law enforcement in America needs to do some "soul searching" and reflect one what individual officers can do to better protect Americans' civil rights.

"I think law enforcement has got to soul search and do things that are going to significantly change the way they've operated and to rid the system of these situations that give them a bad look and name because I think they do an unbelievable job in one of the toughest occupations in the country, and it all loses its significance when you have these issues crop up of the nature of George Floyd. And that's just not good because I think it indicts the system across the board every time that happens."

Another potential obstacle to the Senate's more-progressive agenda is the House, where GOP Congressman Jim Jordan and the House Judiciary Committee are working with the Republican conference to come up with proposals. Whenever it's finished, the House Republican plan will eventually be introduced by Pete Stauber, a Republican Congressman and former police lieutenant. Sources say "everything is one the table."

So that's at least three plans, only one of which has been developed to the point where a draft could be released.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, who promised to release the full draft text yesterday, are clearly doing some soul searching of their own.