FERGUSON LEGISLATIVE UPDATE. Think that Ferguson related legislation can’t pass the Republican controlled House and Senate? Think again. What is the one issue that congressional Republicans and Democrats have found rare agreement on? Criminal justice reform.
The passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act through the Republican controlled House in 2013 demonstrated that. The bill, which is now the law, requires law enforcement agencies to report details of police involved deaths to the Department of Justice. It also requires DOJ to act on the finings.
Several members of the Black Caucus are offering Ferguson related legislation. But this isn’t School House Rock. It’s often the case that bills are not voted on as straight up and down with clear roll call votes. The passage of legislation often times happens after back room deal making and quiet consensus no one sees. Remember the names Jason Chaffetz, Tom Massie, Rand Paul, Raul Labrador, Tom McClintock and Mike Lee. Those are Republicans willing to work on bi-partisan justice reform in Congress.
For the 114th Congress, the Black Caucus is offering the following Ferguson related legislation:
1. The Grand Jury Reform Act: In cases of officer-involved shootings, this bill, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), would require the appointment of a special prosecutor charged with conducting a public probable cause hearing when there is evidence of a crime.
2. The Camera Authorization and Maintenance Act: Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) is authoring a bill requiring all state and local law-enforcement agencies that receive Department of Justice grants to have their officers wear body cameras.
3. The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act: A week after Michael Brown was killed, Rep. Johnson announced that he would draft a bill to end the DOD 1033 Program. On Sept. 16 Johnson filed the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. Unlike Cleaver’s legislation, Johnson’s is designed to end the 1033 Program, not just provide oversight.
4. The Transparency in Policing Act: This bill, introduced by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), would be a lightweight alternative to the bill offered by Cleaver on body cameras. Often, especially in a gridlocked Congress, a bill with fewer oversight requirements is much easier to pass and gain consensus on.
5. The End Racial Profiling Act: As the name indicates, this legislation seeks to protect minority communities from the use of racial profiling by law enforcement. The bill mandates training on racial-profiling issues and links state grant money to effective policies on the issue.
6. The REDEEM Act: Youthful civil rights groups like the Dream Defenders and the Organization for Black Struggle have been advocating for something that stops the cradle to prison pipeline. Legislation by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) attempts to confront that problem and deal with what happens after someone has been incarcerated.
Last October, Sen. Paul wrote: “It will take bipartisan leadership and courage to repair the damage of the War on Drugs’ impact on non-violent criminals, many of whom are serving longer terms than violent criminals. Wide-ranging support for sentencing reform and the REDEEM Act are a sign that bipartisan agreement is achievable.”
7. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) is offering two pieces of Ferguson related legislation this year. The first requires states to require police to report the details of use of deadly force situations. The bill goes beyond Rep. Bobby Scott’s Death in Custody legislation that just became law in December 2014. Cohen’s bill calls for a national database of deadly force information.
8. Cohen’s Second Ferguson Piece: In an interview with Crewof42.com in early January, Cohen said his second Ferguson bill will require an “independent commission” to investigate the use of deadly force by police. It’s likely that President Obama’s Commission on 21st Century Policing will include Cohen’s legislative pieces as well as many other above. The mandate of those policies would likely mean that the White House plans to push the language in the above legislation into any future bill that may pass.