DES MOINES, Iowa – Senate Democrats blocked the JUSTICE Act that came up for a vote on Wednesday on a 55 to 45 cloture vote, one week after U.S. Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced the bill. The bill had 47 co-sponsors, including U.S. Senators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Every Senate Republican, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Angus King, I-Maine, voted for cloture. Senate Democrats who voted against claimed the bill did not go far enough.
The bill is a response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
The JUSTICE Act offered several law enforcement reforms, including:
- It requires local law enforcement agencies to report on their department’s use of force incidents and the use of no-knock warrants.
- It incentivizes bans on chokeholds.
- It strengthens penalties for falsifying police reports.
- It provides federal funding for the purchase of body cameras and provides financial penalties for departments whose officers fail to use them.
- It requires law enforcement agencies to maintain employment and disciplinary records of law enforcement officers for 30 years and requires hiring law enforcement agencies to search and obtain applicants’ records.
- It provides federal funding for the recruitment of law enforcement officers from the community an agency serves if the department’s make-up differs dramatically from the community they serve.
- It makes lynching a federal crime.
- It provides funding for training on alternatives to use of force, de-escalation, behavioral health crises, and training on “duty to intervene.”
- It closes the law enforcement consent loophole making it illegal for federal law enforcement officers to engage in a sexual act while working under the “color of law” with an individual arrested by, detained by, or is in the custody of a law enforcement officer.
- It creates two commissions to study and offer solutions to a broader range of challenges facing black men and boys and the criminal justice system.
The bill stopped short of eliminating or reforming qualified immunity.
Scott sharply criticized his Senate Democrat colleagues and said they had the opportunity to amend the bill.
“I am amazed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle refused to vote for legislation that would provide real-life solutions for the American people,” Scott said in a released statement. “If my colleagues had issues with the legislation, they should have accepted that we were willing to give them multiple amendment votes so that we can make the necessary adjustments to get this across the president’s desk. The JUSTICE Act is a first step in the right direction, and it has the power to help to ensure that the list of names of those who died at the hands of law enforcement officers does not grow longer. I hope that the American people see how the Democrats blocked solutions from coming to their communities for the sake of partisan politics.”
He spoke on the Senate floor for over 30 minutes after the cloture vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Senate Democrats of rejecting an open process.
“After demanding the Senate take up police reform this month, Senate Democrats reversed their demands overnight,” he said in a released statement. “Today, they rejected an open process with amendment votes and refused to let the Senate even consider the subject unless they got to rewrite Senator Scott’s bill behind closed doors. The amendment process and the 60-vote threshold give Senate minorities considerable leverage to ensure final bills are bipartisan, but both sides have to actually want an outcome. Today, Democrats showed they do not, so communities across America will be denied the reforms they deserve.”
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of partisan politics to block a bill believed to benefit President Donald Trump.
“I am bitterly disappointed by the fact that Senate Democrats will not even allow debate on police reform. House Democrats are jamming a bill through the House without any Republican input. Republicans in the House have been shut out, and Senate Democrats are now refusing to even try and find common ground with Republicans on police reform. It is clear to me it is an unpardonable sin for Democrats to work with Republicans to try to solve a problem that may benefit Donald Trump,” he said.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., member of the JUSTICE Act task force, lamented that the left blocked debate.
“D.C. politicians sadly usually care more about scoring partisan points than actually fixing things. The JUSTICE Act isn’t perfect, but it’s a darn good effort to take legislative priorities — from both parties — and do something to fix policing issues America’s had for a long time. Moderate Democrats signaled support, but that wasn’t good enough for the far Left, who won’t even let us start debate. Senator Tim Scott has thoughtfully led on this issue, crafting legislation that is worthy of a full debate before the Senate — we should do that work,” he said.
Grassley criticized Senate Democrats filibuster.
“We’re standing on the floor of the world’s greatest deliberative body, yet my colleagues on the other side won’t even entertain a debate on an issue that has stirred our nation and shaken it to its core,” he said during floor remarks. “The Senate’s legacy and prestige is built on our ability to debate and discuss legislation to address the most pressing issues in the country. My colleagues on the other side have robbed the American people of the opportunity to pass meaningful police reform.”
Ernst noted that Iowa unanimously passed a police reform bill.
“In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a historic police reform bill which will add additional accountability for law enforcement. This will benefit both the community and the police. And folks here’s what’s remarkable about this new law: partisanship wasn’t a factor,” she said during her floor remarks. “And I agreed with them because any journey starts with a single step—a meaningful step.”
Both the JUSTICE Act and the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, the House Democrats’ bill, make lynching a federal crime, call for increased data collection, more training for law enforcement officials and incentives for law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, and creates a national criminal justice commission.
Read the text of the bill below: