House Democrats pass police funding bills despite divisions

WASHINGTON — House Democrats pushed through a long-sought policing and public safety agenda on Thursday after overcoming internal differences over the legislation they plan to put at the heart of their election-year pitch.

The package of four bills passed in succession — some with strong bipartisan support — and headed to the Senate, where their fate is uncertain.

The Democrats’ success came after party leaders spent hours arguing with Progressives who threatened to block the package over concerns about increased funding for local police departments. A few lawmakers said the plan lacked the accountability measures Democrats once sought after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests against racial injustice.

The House ended up approving the money, including for departments with fewer than 125 officers, and aid for de-escalation training and mental health services. One of the main goals is to reduce fatal encounters between police and people with mental illness.

“The bottom line is that you can’t cut it or fight your way to safer communities and better policing,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., one of the lead negotiators. “It’s about investing to protect. We must always have the backs of those who risk their lives every day to protect us.”

Despite opposition from some liberals, there was support from top progressive representatives Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Ilhan Omar D-Minn., who had negotiated with Gottheimer, a moderate. After an agreement was announced on Wednesday, Democratic leaders moved quickly to put the bills to a vote.

“We are proud of the work we have been able to do here collectively as democrats with different ideologies,” Omar told reporters. “And I think this is the start of hopefully a process that we can continue to engage in.”

To get more Liberals on board, language was included that would allow the Justice Department to have discretion over which police departments are allowed to receive the grants. It would also allocate $50 million to collect data on policing practices and community safety.

A policing package passed the House in March 2021 went much further, including banning police chokeholds and changing so-called qualified immunity for law enforcement, which would make it easier to prosecute misconduct. policewoman. None of these provisions have been included this time.

Rep. Cori Bush, who rose to prominence as an activist leader in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, said the current funding bill does not not much to solve “the crisis of police brutality”.

“Even the most rudimentary accountability measures” adopted last year did not make it into the new package, Bush said in a statement.

Even with these internal divisions, the bills have attracted some Republican support. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., co-sponsor of Gottheimer’s funding bill, spent time on the floor Thursday urging fellow Republicans to join him in support.

“It’s for our law enforcement men and women. It’s for these little agencies,” said Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff. “We have to be able to help them. And I can tell you that the last two and a half years have left law enforcement demoralized like never before.”

But other Republicans called the Democrats’ package a last-ditch effort to win over voters in the November election.

“Democrats are introducing these bills today because we’re 46 days away from a midterm election,” Rep. Pete Stauber told R-Minn. “They want the American people to suddenly and miraculously believe that they care about the crime crisis in our country.”

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Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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