US House Democrats pass police funding bills despite pushback – National RS News

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House Democrats on Thursday unveiled a long-sought police and public safety package after overcoming internal disagreements over legislation they plan to make the centerpiece of their election-year platform.

A package of four bills passed in quick succession — all with bipartisan support — and headed to the Senate, where their fate is uncertain.

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The Democrats’ victory comes after party leaders spent hours arguing with some who threatened to block the package because of their concerns about increasing funding for local police departments. Some lawmakers say the program lacks the accountability measures Democrats once sought after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests against racial injustice.

The House ended up approving the money, including for departments with fewer than 125 police officers, as well as aid for de-escalation training and mental health services. The main goal is to reduce fatal encounters between police and people with mental illness.

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Other parts of the package would provide money for improved community violence interventions — critical to progressives — and investment in technology to help local investigators close unsolved cases, especially those involving gun crimes.

“The bottom line is you can’t cut it or put your money back into safer communities and better police departments,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., is one of the lead negotiators. “It’s about investing to protect. We must always have the backs of those who risk their lives every day to protect us.”

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Despite opposition from some liberal leaders, there was support from top progressive Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Ilhan Omar D-Minn., who interviewed Gotteimer, the moderate.

Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, held several talks after it became clear in recent days that progress could be made.

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After the deal was announced Wednesday, Democratic leaders quickly moved to bring the bills to a vote.

“We are proud of the work we have been able to do here by working together as Democrats with different views,” Omar told reporters. “And I think this is the beginning, hopefully, of a process that we can continue to engage in.”

To give the board more freedom, language was included that would allow the Department of Justice to have discretion over which police departments are allowed to receive grants. It would also allocate departments to use any of the $60 million authorized for data collection on police and public safety procedures.

The police package passed by the House in March 2021 went further, including preventing police arrests and reforming so-called reasonable immunity to uphold the law, which would make it easier to pursue claims of police misconduct.

None of those provisions are included in this one.

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Rep. Cori Bush, who rose to prominence as an activist leader in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, said the current funding bill did nothing to address the “tragedy of police brutality.”

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“Even bare-bones accountability measures” passed last year failed to make it into the new package, Bush said in a statement.

Despite those internal divisions, the bills drew Republican support. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., the sponsor of Gotteimer’s funding bill, spent time on the floor Thursday urging other Republicans to join him in supporting it.

“This is our law, men and women. This is for those smaller organizations,” said Rutherford, a former Jacksonville executive. “We must be able to help them. And I can tell you that the last 2 1/2 years have left law enforcement depressed like I’ve never seen before.”

More than 140 Republicans ended up voting for the bill.

But some Republicans called the Democrats’ package a last-ditch effort to win over voters in the November election.

“Democrats are releasing these bills today because we have 46 days from the midterm elections,” said Rep. Pete Stauber R-Minn., “They want the American people to suddenly and miraculously believe that they care about the crime problem plaguing our country.”

Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

© 2022 The Canadian Press



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