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House Democrats look for a legislative victory on policing before the midterms

Written by on September 22, 2022

(WASHINGTON) — House Democrats, hoping to notch another major legislative win before the midterm elections, will vote Thursday on a long-delayed package of changes to policing and public safety.

Moderate and progressive Democrats hammered out a deal on Wednesday after frenetic negotiations — and on one of the House’s last working days before entering a recess that will stretch past the November races.

This new package of bills would fund recruitment and training for police departments across the country and includes new language on police accountability.

“House Democrats are committed to … building safer communities across America,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tweeted on Wednesday. “Tomorrow, I will bring four public safety bills to the House Floor for consideration. I thank my colleagues for their continued work on behalf of the American people.”

To address mental health crises, one of the bills, sponsored by California Rep. Katie Porter, would create a grant program for departments to hire and dispatch mental health professionals — not law enforcement officers — in instances involving individuals with behavioral health needs.

The package also includes a bill from Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford that would direct the Department of Justice to establish a grant program for local agencies to hire detectives and victim services personnel to investigate shootings.

The legislation targets funding to smaller police departments with fewer than 200 officers; gives the DOJ the ability to preference applicants that use the funds for officer training to improve community safety and accountability; and allows the funding to not only go to officer pay and training but also be used for data collection regarding police and community safety.

Progressives have said they were particularly concerned about providing more grants and funds to police departments without including requirements on accountability for officers’ actions.

Moderates have long insisted on bringing forth public safety bills as a way to fire back at Republican attacks that blame Democrats for rising crime. Polls show some key Senate races tightening, with GOP candidates pressing their opponents on the issue — often citing advocates’ “defund the police” slogan, despite Democratic leaders rejecting such messages.

While Republicans seek to paint Democrats as soft on crime, President Joe Biden has slammed members of the GOP both for denouncing federal law enforcement after an FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s residence last month and for expressing support for those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Biden and Democrats pushed in the 2020 cycle for broader policing reform, including changes to the standard to prosecute police misconduct and qualified immunity, after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

But Senate Democrats ultimately failed to overcome Republican opposition to a major piece of legislation named after Floyd. Instead, Biden signed two smaller executive orders on policing earlier this year, on the second anniversary of Floyd’s death.

House Democrats can only afford to lose four votes on their new package, but party leaders are confident they will get the proposal over the line. If it passes, the legislation will then head to the Senate, where its fate is unclear.

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents the district in Minnesota where Floyd was killed, was one of the harshest critics of the ongoing police reform efforts but gave her approval on Wednesday. The package, she said, is “evidence-based, holistic legislation that addresses public safety and unifies the Democratic Caucus.”

“After significant, deliberate negotiations, we are pleased to share that … the bill will include a number of reforms to ensure funds are used to support smaller police departments, to invest in de-escalation and other important training, and for data collection and mental health,” Omar and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a joint statement.

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