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Congresswoman Karen Bass Discusses New Police Reform Bill Named After George Floyd


Lawmakers in the House passed a bill this week aimed at reforming policing in this country. It's called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. George Floyd, of course, was the man killed last May by a police officer in Minneapolis. Now, this bill would ban chokeholds and make it easier to pursue misconduct claims against officers, among other reforms. The lead author is Congresswoman Karen Bass from California. Good morning, Representative Bass.

KAREN BASS: Good morning.

KING: I want to ask you about momentum. And to do that, I need to get into some numbers. When the House voted on this bill last summer, you got every Democrat and three Republicans to sign on. This time, you got two Democrats and the only Republican who voted in favor said he did so by mistake. What changed?

BASS: Well, first of all, one of the Republicans retired and didn't come back, and the two other Republicans decided that they just didn't want to vote for it this time. To me, though, the struggle continues. We will send the bill over to the Senate. But at the same time as we send it over to the Senate, Democrats and Republicans in the House will continue discussions. And it is quite possible - and we believe that we will get there - to some compromises that will be delivered in the Senate. So this is just the first step of the process.

KING: May I ask what the sticking points are?

BASS: Sure. The two most contentious parts of the bill are qualified immunity, which essentially would allow a citizen to sue a police officer for brutality or worse. And the other provision is Section 242, which lowers the standard from which you can prosecute an officer. We are always extremely frustrated when we hear or see of a case that's particularly brutal or even results in death and the officer not being charged. Well, that's because the way the law is structured now the bar to prosecute is so high, officers are never accused. But my two Republican colleagues who voted against the bill this time were also very concerned about the process. They wanted us to start over again, and there was no way we could really do that. So it doesn't mean because they didn't vote for the bill now that they won't ultimately support a bill that comes back from the Senate.

KING: In order to compromise, would you have to remove those two things, which are top-line items from the bill?



BASS: Not necessarily at all. We need to begin discussions and look at it. One of the things that happened since we passed the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act last year is that many states around the country acted. They have enacted certain reforms. And so one of the first things that we should do is to review the reforms that other states have enacted. For example, in Colorado, they didn't eliminate qualified immunity. They reformed qualified immunity. Is that a good thing? I don't know. We should look at it. One of the things that has been said is that if we take qualified immunity away from police officers, then thousands of police officers will quit the force. Well, that hasn't happened in Colorado. And so we need to look at what other states have done. They've moved ahead without us. I am very glad about that because it gives us specific examples to look at.

KING: OK, so if the bill does fail in the Senate, one thing you could do is look to the states, say what have they done and how do we put something together on a national level along those lines?

BASS: No, that's not quite what I'm saying. I'm saying that the bill is over in the Senate now, and so the Senate will more than likely make changes to the bill. We would like to influence if they make changes, influence those changes based on reforms that states have already enacted.

KING: I see. OK, OK. This week, as you know, marks 30 years since the police beating of Rodney King. Even then, 30 years ago, people were calling for police reform. What is it going to take to get this done?

BASS: Well, let me be clear. African Americans have been calling for police reform for over 100 years.

KING: Yes.

BASS: So 30 years ago, Rodney King - I thought that was going to be transformative because we had police officers on camera where in the past police officers had always denied what we saw on video.

KING: And yet it wasn't transformative, and I guess that is the work that you and your fellow legislators are doing now. Congresswoman Karen Bass from California, thanks so much.

BASS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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