WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers negotiating a police reform bill say they are optimistic about the prospects for a bipartisan deal, despite missing a deadline set by President Joe Biden of the one anniversary on Tuesday of the killing of George Floyd.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have in many ways become even more divided in the year since Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis by a white officer kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Democrat Biden’s plans to spend trillions on public works, funded by taxes on the wealthy and companies, have been dismissed by Republicans, and his COVID-19 relief package did not win a single Republican vote.
Democrats, who have named their bill after Floyd, suggested that won’t happen with police reform.
“We will get this bill on President Biden’s desk,” said Representative Karen Bass of California, a Democrat leading House negotiations, at an event with Floyd’s family members in Washington. “We will work until we get the job done. It will be passed in a bipartisan manner.”
Democrats are seeking to restrict the use of chokeholds by police while making it easier to hold officers liable in court.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, a lead Republican negotiator, said on Tuesday the main point of contention between the parties is qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields individual police officers from lawsuits in certain circumstances.
Still, he said, lawmakers are making progress.
“We have a long way to go still, but it’s starting to take form,” Scott told reporters.
Leaving out the ability to penalize cops in the courts has been strongly encouraged by police unions, but would be a blow to law enforcement reform activists. People briefed on the process said that there was sufficient agreement on so many other reforms that there should be scope for a compromise.
Last week, Biden signed a bill that won rare bipartisan support to fight against hate crimes following a spate of attacks on Asian Americans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the White House on Tuesday, Biden met privately with Floyd’s family to discuss the bill named after him.
“We just want this George Floyd Policing Act to be passed,” Floyd’s brother, Philonise, told reporters afterward. If the United States can pass federal laws to protect bald eagles, “you can make federal laws to protect people of color,” he said.
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