The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act late on Wednesday with 220 votes. It will now head to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future due to the slim margin of control Democrats hold in the chamber.
If passed, the act would make sweeping changes to policing in the United States, banning chokeholds, eliminating qualified immunity for officers, mandating more data collection and moving more funding toward community-based policing programs among a host of other measures.
The act similarly passed in the House last year but languished in the Senate as former President Donald Trump reiterated that he would not sign it even if it made it through. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the act if it makes it to his desk.
I am pleased that the House will vote next week on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. I encourage the House to pass it. Following Senate consideration, I hope to be able to sign into law a landmark police reform bill.
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 25, 2021
After last year's failure, it was reintroduced by House Rep. Karen Bass and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler this year, with the hopes that a Democratic Senate and presidency would help get it passed.
"Thirty years ago today, Rodney King was viciously beaten by police officers in Los Angeles. It would be the first time the world would witness what African Americans had been organizing, marching and trying to change for more than 100 years. Personally, I was hopeful that once everyone saw what happens in Black communities, policing in America would change," Bass said in a statement to Blavity.
"I was certain no one would deny what they saw with their own eyes and the officers involved would be held accountable for their actions. I was wrong. Now, thirty years later, the United States House of Representatives has voted to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is just the first step to transform policing in America by raising the standards for policing in America, and holding officers who fail to uphold the ethic of protecting and serving their communities, accountable," she added.
The demonstrations were sparked by a series of brutal killings and misconduct by the police in the first six months of 2020, including the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.
"Last summer, millions of Americans across the country took to the streets to demand meaningful accountability for officers who commit misconduct. Within weeks the House passed legislation to do just that, but the pleas for justice that rang out in the streets fell on deaf ears in the Senate," Nadler said in a statement.
"Today, the House has taken decisive action once again by passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, bold legislation that reimagines how public safety could work in a truly equitable and just way in each community. The Senate must take up this legislation and send it to the president’s desk without delay," Nadler explained, adding that Bass led the effort in crafting the legislation.
While the Senate is controlled by Democrats, two of their caucus members, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have balked at much of the progressive legislation being pushed by House members and Biden.
Because of how crucial his vote is Manchin forced the White House to end efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 and has strong-armed Biden into adding limits to the proposed stimulus payments Democrats want to send to struggling Americans, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post.
While both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have come out in favor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it is unclear how Manchin and Sinema will react to it. CBS News also reported that it is unclear whether this legislation will require 50 votes or 60 votes in the Senate.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott
introduced a similar but less aggressive bill last year. This week, he told CBS News that he has spoken to Bass and Sen. Cory Booker about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but he has expressed significant concerns about parts of the bill, most notably the removal of qualified immunity for police officers.
The House vote on the act was moved up to Wednesday evening after the House Sergeant at Arms sent out a bulletin on Wednesday saying U.S. Capitol Police had "received new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group," according to CBS News.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee invited Floyd's family to the House floor on Wednesday as they voted on the act.
Standing with the George Floyd Family after the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act! pic.twitter.com/Pd5TJCmx4E
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) March 4, 2021
Candace Hollingsworth, the national co-chair of Our Black Party, applauded the House effort in a statement to Blavity, urging the Senate to do what they could to get the act to Biden's desk.
"As these bills head to the Senate, we urge Senator [Chuck] Schumer to muster the will required to see these important bills to passage. The equity agenda that delivered the White House and majorities in the House and Senate will rely on the political courage he demonstrates in this moment. These first two bills, though significant, are tests of the strength of the Democratic caucus to deliver on the promises made to Black Americans," Hollingsworth said, referencing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the For the People Act, which was also passed on Wednesday evening.
"If we have learned nothing more in this country, we have learned that we can no longer compromise on equity. This is not a moment to merely get Senators 'on record' for their views on equity. It is the time to lead aggressively for equity. Senate leadership must exhaust every available resource and protocol to pave the way forward. Although promising, these are not sufficient and more must continue to be done to marry the voice of movement with the halls of power," Hollingsworth added.