Putting People First, and Politics Last

June 26, 2020
Weekly Column

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I’ve spent hours listening and learning from community leaders, as well as law enforcement officials, about how we can bring about a more-just nation. These conversations have been productive and insightful as I prepared to return to Washington this week for police reform debate. 

Given that, I understood the need for Congress to come together to make improvements. Unfortunately, H.R. 7120, the bill introduced by House Democrats, was drafted without any bipartisan input. As a result, it overreaches and could cause real problems for our country. For example, the combination of lowering the mens rea standard, lowering qualified immunity, and raising the use of force standards would strongly disincentivize citizens from entering the law enforcement profession. I am worried these provisions of H.R. 7120 would make it extremely difficult to recruit and retain officers, especially in rural areas.

Luckily, there is a better approach, which is why last week, I became a cosponsor of the JUSTICE Act, which I believe offers real solutions to increase transparency and accountability throughout our nation’s law enforcement agencies. Let’s take some time to walk through the specifics.

  • Originally introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the JUSTICE Act would require annual reporting on use of force, either by law enforcement or against law enforcement. In addition, this bill would require law enforcement agencies to maintain and share disciplinary records for officer hiring considerations. Increasing this transparency will drastically hinder the ability for bad actors to hop around to different cities and departments. It’s time for us to keep bad cops off the streets.
  • The JUSTICE Act also helps give police departments the equipment they need – such as providing $500 million for state and local law enforcement to purchase body cameras and also store the footage obtained from these cameras.
  • This bill bans chokeholds except in limited circumstances, mandates “Duty to Intervene” training – which is already provided by the South Dakota Law Enforcement Training Academy, and makes lynching a federal hate crime. 

I’m confident the JUSTICE Act could be bipartisan. Are these provisions enough to bring about real change? I’m not sure – but I know they are a step in the right direction. They are provisions worth debating and our country deserves more than a stalemate. Just last week, Speaker Pelosi stated she would like the House and Senate to go to conference to negotiate the differences between the two bills – but with some in the Senate blocking debate, there’s little chance of any progress and even littler chance of any reform making it to the president’s desk. 

The American people are asking Congress to do something – to come together during a time of great need and move this country forward. I’m ready to have the real conversations that move our country toward progress, but I’m not interested in grandstanding or trying to score political points. As I said several weeks ago, we have more to do.