It’s time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to threaten — or invoke — the nuclear option to end the Democratic filibuster of the Republican bill sponsored by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to regulate police conduct.
The Democratic-controlled House has already passed a sweeping bill regulating police behavior, but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to act. It’s not that the Republican Senate majority does not want to pass the bill. They are blocked from even taking it up by a Democratic filibuster. Without sixty votes for the bill, the Senate cannot act. Democrats will happily lament the shortcomings in the Scott proposal and bemoaning the absence of Senate action while they keep the bill from the floor.
George Floyd’s death has kindled a sense of urgency in the nation about police brutality. Its time that McConnell put aside — for the moment — his reverence for Senate tradition and force an end to the Democratic filibuster by a simple majority vote.
The House bill and the Scott proposal are identical in their prohibition of chokeholds unless the police officer is in danger. They also both establish a registry of cops found to have acted abusively in the course of their jobs.
(Is this registry akin to that of sex offenders? We need to be sure that a mere accusation is not enough to force an officer onto the list.)
The bills differ in that Scott would not remove the shield against civil liability for police who abuse civilians. The House bill, that exposes officers to such civil lawsuits, is a terrible idea. It puts police into the boat as doctors in their vulnerability to trial lawyer- instigated lawsuits. Without the protection of the equivalent of medical malpractice insurance or deep personal pockets, police officers will have to think twice before taking action to protect themselves or the public. A trial lawyer may be figuratively hiding behind every lamppost whenever a cop has to physically subdue a suspect. Policing is, after all, inherently dangerous and he measured use of force is an essential ingredient. How terrible if every time a cop busts a suspect, a potential lawsuit looms over his head.
Good for Connecticut that went further than either party’s bill by requiring police to intervene and attempt to stop “unreasonable, excessive or illegal use of force” by another officer. Such a change is needed so that the fabled blue wall of silence does not sanction, in practice, what the law expressly forbids.
Both parties in both houses should incorporate the Connecticut standard in their bills.
Meanwhile the Democrats must not be allowed to make partisan hay from Floyd’s death. The Senate should promptly pass the Scott bill and clear away the Democratic filibuster blocking it.
In any other season, legislators from each party would reason that half a loaf is better than none and pass compromise legislation. But in an election year, to quote former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic motto is “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
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