House panel approves police reform plan from Democrats

House panel approves police reform plan from Democrats
House panel approves police reform plan from Democrats

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday took the next step on a sweeping package of reforms and accountability measures for police, sending a bill to the full House spurred by the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"What are we in Congress going to do about the murders of George Floyd and so many others?" asked Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

The debate turned testy at one point, as Rep. Cedric Richmond, a black Democrat from Louisiana, sharply rebuked Republicans over their reaction to the police reform effort.

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“You all are white men who have never lived in my shoes and you do not know what it is like to be an African-American male!" Richmond shouted in a tense exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

"This is a crisis," Richmond said. "People are losing their lives."

In a lengthy committee debate, Democrats accused Republicans of offering amendments to the police bill which had nothing to do with the issue of police brutality - as the GOP forced votes on matters related to Antifa, the Mueller Report, and the area in Seattle taken over by protesters.

Unlike plans from Republicans in the Senate, the House Democratic bill includes a measure to open police officers to liability lawsuits, by doing away with what's known as 'qualified immunity' in the courts.

"It's time for us to end that charade, that legal charade," said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), saying if lawyers can be sued for misconduct, then police officers should be forced to deal with the same possibility for violating the rights of others.

"Nobody should be above the law," Johnson said. "That's the way it should be in America."

The action by the House Judiciary Committee means the House and Senate will be considering much different bills on police reform in coming weeks.

It's not clear if the two parties will be able to come together later this summer to actually produce something which can get to the President's desk.

“We're serious about making a law here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday morning - but Democrats have said GOP plans are too 'watered down' to accept.