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March 09, 2021 | In The News

Critics Say House-Passed George Floyd Act Hobbles Police, Exposes Them to New Dangers

When Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) claimed during the March 3 debate in the House of Representatives on H.R. 1280, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” that “there is no defunding the police” in the measure, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) responded with a barrage of data.

“The gentle lady just said there is no defunding of the police, but I would just point out in Democratic-controlled cities around the country: Austin, Texas, $150 million, Baltimore, Maryland, $22 million, Boston, $12 million, Columbus, $23 million, Eureka, California, $1.2 million, Hartford, $2 million,” Jordan said.

Continuing, Jordan said “Madison, Wisconsin, $2 million, Minneapolis, $8 million, New York, $1 billion, Norman [Okla.], $865,000, Oklahoma City, $1.5 million, Philadelphia, $33 million, Portland, Oregon, $3 million, San Francisco, $120 million, Seattle, $69 million, Washington, D.C., $15 million. That’s what Democrats have done over the last year.”

The exchange between the Texas Democrat and Ohio Republican was indicative of one of the most heated debates to date in the 117th Congress.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), one of two principal co-sponsors of the measure this year and when an identical version of it was approved by the Democratic House in 2020, said during last week’s debate that “a profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable. That is what this bill accomplishes.”

The current proposal required a mere 10 days to go from introduction on Feb. 21 by Bass and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to passage in the lower chamber on March 3.

According to the co-sponsors, the measure would if it becomes law mean that “for the first time ever federal law would: 1) ban chokeholds; 2) end racial and religious profiling; 3) eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement; 4) establish national standard for the operation of police departments; 5) mandate data collection on police encounters; 6) reprogram existing funds to invest in transformative community-based policing programs; and 7) streamline federal law to prosecute excessive force and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations.”

The House approved the bill on a 219-213 tally, with two Democrats opposing it and no Republican supporting it. Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) was initially scored as voting for the bill, but he claimed he did so by mistake and changed his vote to oppose it.

Approval in the Senate is far from certain as the upper chamber is evenly split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. It’s not likely that 10 Republican senators will vote with Democrats to reach the required 60 votes to break a filibuster against the proposal. President Joe Biden will sign the measure if it makes it to his desk.

Following the vote, the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) condemned House passage, saying, “it is the exact same bill the House passed on June 25, 2020, which NAPO strongly opposed. There has been no outreach over the past nine months since the bill initially passed the House to address our concerns and the concerns of the larger law enforcement community.

“It seems as if this is a political move to check off a box rather than an honest attempt to develop polices to change policing practices for the better in this country.”

The group, which represents a national coalition of law enforcement unions and associations, said its’ main worries about the bill include “the practical elimination of qualified immunity—the legal doctrine that protects government officials for personal liability in situations where they acted in good faith, the change of the Graham v Connor legal standard of “objective reasonableness” for the use of force to “only when necessary,” and the clear disdain for officer due process, which runs throughout the bill.

“These provisions are incredibly concerning taken together as they remove any legal protections for officers, while making it easier to prosecute them for mistakes on the job, not just criminal acts.”

Asked if H.R. 1280 would defund the police, Zack Smith, Legal Fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, told The Epoch Times Monday that “it would certainly make their jobs more difficult or dangerous, and it seems to have a lot of unfunded mandates it is imposing on the police.”

The unfunded mandates “when you combine that with the other things that it does, like restricting the transfer of military equipment to police that a lot of departments rely on for things like their SWAT teams, I can certainly envision a strain on a lot of departments’ budgets.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), whose father and brother are in law enforcement, told The Epoch Times Monday he is especially concerned that nobody will want to enter the profession if qualified immunity is removed.

“You’re not going to find a law enforcement officer, even people who are in now, that are going to be willing to say ‘okay, I want to protect the country, given everything that’s going on, and then put my family, my property, my livelihood at risk if I make a decision that’s within my training protocol, and somebody gets hurt and they sue me personally.”

Steube also noted that Members of Congress who voted to remove qualified immunity protection from law enforcement will continue to have it for themselves in their work.