George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that bans chokeholds and “qualified immunity” for law enforcement is passed by a vote of 220-212. But negotiations on the bill will take longer in the Senate.
The US House of Representatives have passed a bill banning controversial police tactics and easing the way for lawsuits against officers violating suspects' constitutional rights, although the measure's Senate prospects were uncertain.
Democrats pushed the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act" on Wednesday through the House by a vote of 220-212, with the support of only one Republican, just days before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin goes on trial on a state murder charge in the death of Floyd last year.
Floyd, 46, an Black man, died when he was detained with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nearly eight minutes. His killing sparked weeks of nationwide and global protests, many of which were led by Black Lives Matter activists.
"How many more people have to die, how many more people have to be brutalized on videotape" before police reforms become law, asked Democratic Representative Karen Bass, who wrote the legislation with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
She said the bill would hold police "accountable" when constitutional rights are violated but would also support local law enforcement by fostering improvements in community policing, especially for minority neighbourhoods.
"My city is not an outlier, but rather an example of the inequalities our country has struggled with for centuries," said Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, who represents the Minneapolis area near where Floyd died.
She asked her colleagues if they would "have the moral courage to pursue justice and secure meaningful change?"
Bill changes 'qualified immunity' for police
One of its most controversial provisions would change "qualified immunity" for police, further opening the door for lawsuits over the use of excessive force.
Reuters news agency in May 2020 published an investigation revealing how qualified immunity, with the Supreme Court's continual refinements, had made it easier for police officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.
Republicans attack bill
Conservative Republicans have attacked the Democratic bill, saying it would put law enforcement lives in danger and make communities less safe.
The police reform effort sputtered in Congress last summer after the House passed the so-called George Floyd bill and Democrats blocked a Senate Republican bill.
While it also addressed issues such as police choke holds, no-knock warrants and use of police body cameras, Democrats complained it relied on incentives rather than mandating changes.
Senator Tim Scott, the author of the Republican bill, told Reuters in a statement he welcomed conversations with Democrats over qualified immunity.