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Congressional Democrats to propose criminal justice reform legislation

Demonstrators gather near the U.S. Capitol while protesting

Demonstrators gather near the U.S. Capitol while protesting against police brutality and racism on Saturday in Washington. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats will unveil criminal justice reform legislation Monday that is expected to set new national standards for police use of force, ban chokeholds, create a database of bad cops and end officers' immunity from lawsuits.

Democrats announced the Monday news conference on Saturday as thousands of people marched and demonstrated in New York, the nation’s capital and across America and around the world to protest the choking death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The Congressional Black Caucus will take the lead on the legislation, which also could address racial disparities in health care, education, economics and the environment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday.

The bill was still being finalized, lawmakers said Saturday, but is scheduled to have its first hearing Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).

Pelosi said Democrats are working on a bill “protecting equal justice and including a number of provisions ending racial profiling, ending excessive use of force, ending qualified immunity … and, again, addressing the loss of trust between police departments and communities they serve.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), a caucus member who represents parts of Queens and southwestern Nassau County, said in a phone interview Saturday the caucus would lead off with three key measures in the legislation.

The first is national standards for police use of force, a standard that would ban chokeholds or pressing on people’s windpipes, he said, citing the deadly choking by police of Floyd on May 25 and Eric Garner on Staten Island by New York City police six years ago.

The second is to create a transparent database of police who have a record of misconduct and use of deadly force so that they cannot simply leave one police department and join another without its knowledge of their conduct, Meeks said.

Finally, Meeks said the bill would strip law enforcement officers of qualified immunity to lawsuits that seek to hold them personally responsible for official abusive acts and requires the cities and public agencies that employ them to pay for any settlement from a lawsuit.

That measure, however, most likely faces the toughest road to passage. Republicans have long sided with law enforcement on that issue.

Already, Democrats have filed several individual bills to address the racial disparities in police and law enforcement policies and actions. But the final package that Pelosi will approve won’t be revealed until Monday.

Democrats lamented that no Republicans have signed on to any of their police reform bills.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that the two parties can “easily find common ground” on legislation. He suggested, for example, tying federal funds to better police training and ensuring bad officers can be removed.

Meeks credited videos showing police abuses and the widespread racially diverse protests, including those in Republican states, with making a dent in the longtime Republican opposition to police reform legislation.

“The protesters and those young people in the streets, they are making things happen and move,” Meeks said. “We may move some of these other folks enough that we can get a vote out that will make these things law.”

An earlier version incorrectly characterized the Problem Solvers Caucus position on qualified police immunity.

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