WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, an expansive policing overhaul measure named for the 46-year-old Black man who died last Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck for over nine minutes.
The bill passed 220 to 212 along mostly party lines, with two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, voting against it, and one Republican, Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas, accidentally voting for it.
Soon after the vote, Gooden tweeted that he had pressed the wrong button and had meant to vote “no.” He said he would submit a correction to his vote.
Floyd’s death triggered a national outcry for a systemic transformation of law enforcement, but the push for policing changes couldn’t overcome partisan and election-year gridlock in Congress and the legislative efforts failed last year.
Democrats were determined to try again, as they control the White House, the Senate and the House. The measure that passed the House last summer on a 236-to-181 vote was reintroduced last month by Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
“A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public,” Bass said during the House floor debate.
The legislation would ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, establish a national database to track police misconduct and prohibit certain no-knock warrants. It also contains several provisions that would make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court. One proposal long sought by civil rights advocates would change “qualified immunity,” the legal doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits, by lowering the bar for plaintiffs to sue officers for alleged civil rights violations.
President Biden praised the bill on Wednesday in a virtual call with House Democrats. The White House said Monday that it supports the legislation and that the president “looks forward to working with the Congress to enact a landmark policing reform law.”
“To make our communities safer, we must begin by rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the people they are entrusted to serve and protect,” the White House said. “We cannot rebuild that trust if we do not hold police officers accountable for abuses of power and tackle systemic misconduct — and systemic racism — in police departments.”
Republicans argued that the legislation’s federal mandates go too far and would weaken the ability of officers to do their jobs. In a narrower proposal of their own last year, Senate Republicans left intact the “qualified immunity” standard. The legislation failed to advance in the Senate, where it needed 60 votes to proceed.
Ahead of the vote, GOP lawmakers assailed the legislation as a defund-the-police effort.
“You say this is a reform bill, and I say that’s BS. Your own conference members have been advocating for the defunding of our local police officers, calling them names I cannot and will not repeat here today,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., who gave an impassioned floor speech about being the wife of a first responder.
But Democrats pushed back on the GOP claim that the bill would hurt the police, financially or otherwise.
“It would be an irresponsible policy to defund the police, and we are not for that,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “You can say it, over and over and over again. It will be a lie, no matter how well it serves your political purposes.”
The House bill also faces the likelihood of a filibuster and other significant obstacles in the evenly divided Senate. Still, Bass said Democrats are full of “renewed hope that this bill will be signed into law.”
The vote was originally expected to take place Thursday but was moved up by House leaders after the Capitol Police warned that a militant group may be plotting to breach the Capitol.
Democrats noted Wednesday that the consideration of the bill comes 30 years to the day after the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King. They also underscored the urgent need for the federal government to address the issue of police reform.
Incidents of police brutality “create instability within communities, and the longer the federal government waits to act or delays in acting, the more instability we potentially have within communities,” said a senior House Democratic aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue. “The weather’s getting warm, the George Floyd trials are coming up, and it’s important the federal government sends a message that it intends to act in this area and not delay.”
Jury selection in the trial begins March 8. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.