Politics

Bipartisan negotiations on police reform legislation drag amid disagreements

Despite months of negotiation, lawmakers still appear far apart on a deal on police reform legislation, with major disagreements over how to punish law enforcement officers for misconduct.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the lawmakers engaged in negotiations led by Senators Tim Scott and Cory Booker and Congresswoman Karen Bass, told CBS News that he had reviewed a draft proposal that he thought “was pretty bad.” 

“It’s exposing police officers to federal criminal prosecution for, beyond 242. It’s not consistent with the conversations we’ve been having,” Graham said, referring to Section 242 of the U.S. Code. Democrats have advocated for changing Section 242 to require a jury to decide whether a law enforcement officer acted with reckless disregard in order to convict, rather than the current standard of “willfulness.”

“I think I’ve been very clear — I’m willing to expand liability to police departments to individual officers, hold individual officers accountable under regular tort law in cases involving death and grievous bodily harm,” Graham said, but he was “not going there” on Section 242.

“That’s not a problem, people being prosecuted. I’m not going to create a federal infrastructure that cops are subject to being prosecuted by the most progressive U.S. Attorney out there,” said the South Carolina senator. He said it appeared they a deal was close earlier this week, “then I saw the paper.” 

“Scott is very concerned too,” Graham said. “So what we’re going to do is draft up what we think the conversation has been about, and see where we go from there.”

Scott, a Republican from North Carolina, told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday that he believed a deal was not imminent.

“We’ve got a lot of work left to do,” he said.

Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, met with Scott on Thursday. He confirmed to CBS News that he has been “trading paper” with the negotiating team, but noted that “there have been drafts going back since the beginning [of negotiations].”

Booker also told reporters on Thursday that “we’re having a robust conversation about every element, every corner of the bill.” He addressed concerns that more progressive Democrats would be unwilling to accept a compromise, saying that he and Scott will “work very hard with our both of our caucuses to get something done.”

“I’m going to get the best deal we can possibly get. And if it’s not making substantive and meaningful reform that will create more transparent policing more accountable policing and potentially save lives and I don’t think there’s any reason to do it,” Booker said.

Talks on police reform legislation picked up some momentum after a jury found Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who killed George Floyd, guilty of murder in April. Floyd died after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes, and video of Floyd’s final moments spurred nationwide protests against police brutality and racial violence last summer.

In March, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive reform bill that changes the standard under Section 242 and overhauls qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits for constitutional violations. Although the bill has support from President Biden, it is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats need support from ten Republicans to advance the bill.

Mr. Biden said in April that he hoped lawmakers would reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd’s death, but negotiators blew past that deadline. Negotiators also met with members of Floyd’s family late last month. But despite those discussions and the numerous meetings between lawmakers, it’s unclear when an agreement will be achieved.

“I would like to get it done by June, but again, I don’t know how long,” Booker said Thursday.

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