WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats in Congress moved forward Wednesday with vastly different proposals for addressing systemic racism in law enforcement, setting up an election-year clash amid growing public support for changing policing in the United States.
Senate Republicans unveiled a narrow set of changes that would encourage state and local police departments to carry out reforms, including by restricting the use of chokeholds and penalizing departments that do not require the use of body cameras. Republicans also proposed creating new de-escalation training for officers and better systems for tracking misconduct.
Introduced by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole black Republican in the chamber, their bill would not mandate any anti-bias measures, instead proposing the creation of a museum curriculum to educate law enforcement personnel about the history of racism and improving race relations between the police and the communities they serve.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, announced the Senate would take up the bill, called the Justice Act, next week. It was a swift timeline that reflected a sense of urgency to act.
“The witnessing of the murder of George Floyd, and the experience in my hometown of Breonna Taylor, certainly brings to the forefront this issue for all Americans, including Senate Republicans,” McConnell said. “I want you to know that we’re serious about making a law here.”
But Democrats dismissed the measure as meaningless. Across the Capitol in the House, they were pressing forward with a more far-reaching overhaul that would revamp how police officers operate and make it easier to hold them legally accountable for misconduct, putting in place new anti-discrimination measures and strict limits on the excessive use of force, which Republicans have already rejected.
The full House is set to vote next week on its measure, which the Judiciary Committee approved on Wednesday in a 24-to-14 vote along party lines. The actions on both sides of Capitol Hill demonstrated the wide gulf that lawmakers would have to bridge to reach an agreement just months before Election Day on what both sides agree is an exceedingly complicated and sensitive set of issues.