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Indy DC Download: House passes D.C. statehood bill while bipartisan policing reform talks get fresh momentum

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
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The U.S. Capitol Building under blue skies

The House approved legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, as the guilty verdict issued in the killing of George Floyd sparked renewed congressional interest in passing a bipartisan policing reform bill.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) has been involved in discussions on a policing proposal with a group of lawmakers, including Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the only African American Republican serving in the Senate.

“This is not just about one officer or one police department,” Horsford told reporters following the verdict against former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin Tuesday. “This is about a system that we still need to reform.”

Scott told reporters Thursday he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached “in the next week or two.”

The House also passed a measure to ensure that those legally entering the country have access to counsel if detained and approved a bill that would prevent presidents from banning entry to the country based on religion.

Votes in the House came as the Senate approved, 94 to 1, legislation to address a surge in pandemic-related hate crimes against the Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.  

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for the bill, which would designate a point person to expedite review of hate crimes reported to federal, state and local law enforcement.

The measure helps “ensure that hate has no place in Nevada and that all Americans, in every community, are treated with the respect, dignity, and protection that they deserve,” Rosen said in a release after the bill was passed.

The Senate also voted to confirm Vanita Gupta to the number three post at the Department of Justice on a 51 to 49 vote. Both Nevada senators also supported Gupta’s nomination.

Police reform

Horsford, the number two leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, said there is "general agreement" on many provisions of the police reform proposal. That includes banning no-knock warrants that allow police to enter a residence without warning, a topic of national conversation since the death of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville apartment last year.

“There are a group of us meeting in a bipartisan way with people like Senator Tim Scott, Senator Cory Booker, and there are provisions that we're talking about,” Horsford said Tuesday. “But to be clear, we need to eliminate no-knock warrants; we need to eliminate the chokehold; we need to establish a national registry so that bad police officers can't go from department to department; we need to have increased standards, national standards, for training to eliminate racial profiling where it may occur. So those are really issues that we have general agreement on.”

Bass, who is leading the talks for House Democrats, told reporters Thursday that the next step entails the House and Senate leadership giving its blessing to what have so far been informal discussions.

The House passed its police reform bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for the second time in March. The chamber first passed the measure in June, about a month after Floyd’s death, which was captured on video and sparked protest against systemic racism worldwide. Shortly after the House action in June, Senate Democrats blocked the Senate from taking up Scott's bill, which differed from the House bill.

The major differences center on Democrats’ push to make it easier to hold police officers liable. The Democrats’ bill would weaken so-called qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that protects police from civil liability if they do not violate “clearly established” law. The Democrats also want to lower the standard currently in the law, known as section 242, that says an officer must be shown to have willfully violated the law, meaning the officer knew the conduct was unlawful at the time. The Democrats’ bill would change willful to reckless, an easier legal standard to meet.  

Scott said that changing the section 242 standard was “off the table” for him. Instead, he wants police departments held accountable rather than individual officers. 

"There is a way to put more of the onus or the burden on the department or on the employer than on the employee," Scott said. "I think that is a logical step forward." 

When asked about Scott’s comments, Bass stressed that changing section 242 and qualified immunity were important — but would not say that it was a red line for Democrats.

“I would never say that, you know, it's my way or the highway,” Bass said when asked about the provisions. “But what I will say is that those are very important.”

“The main point is that we have to figure out a way to prevent these shootings from continuing to happen,” Bass said. “Until officers are held accountable, there's no reason to think they won't happen, as we've seen over the last couple of days. So to me, qualified immunity and 242 are essential.”

She noted that she was hopeful a compromise could be reached.

House votes

The House voted on three bills last week, including the measure to make D.C. a state. The bill passed 216 to 208 on a party-line vote. 

Rep. Dina Titus touted her vote on Twitter. “#DCStatehood is a civil rights issue. I voted for #HR51 because D.C. residents deserve equal citizenship and full voting rights,” Titus said.

The district has more than 700,000 residents (more than Wyoming or Vermont) and does not have a representative who can vote on the House floor, nor representation in the Senate. 

The bill would address the matter by making D.C. a state, making Delegate Eleanore Holmes Norton (D-DC) a U.S. House representative and expanding the Senate by two seats. The federal district would also be reduced to a roughly two-mile perimeter around the Capitol and White House. 

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) said the bill is simply an effort by Democrats to solidify their control of the Senate. The District is overwhelmingly Democratic, with 73 percent of registered voters identifying as Democrat.  

“Well, they say ‘this is about representation.’ No, it isn't,” Amodei said recently. “It's about what they perceive now as two rock solid, Democratic votes to the U.S. Senate.”

Republicans said that there are other ways to address the issue of representation without affecting the Senate's number. One would be to have Maryland absorb the District, except for the small federal part. 

But Democrats rejected the idea, which was offered by Republicans as their motion to recommit, the last opportunity for the minority to change a bill. The proposal failed 215 to 205.

The bill also faces an uncertain future in the Senate. With Democrats controlling only 50 votes, 10 Republicans would be needed to overcome any filibuster. No Republicans have yet voiced support, and neither have all Democrats. 

“I think that all Americans have a right to equal representation, even in the United States Congress,” Sen. Mark Kelley (D-AZ) told reporters Thursday. “But I haven't made a decision on it one way or the other.”

The House also approved the No BAN Act, 218 to 208, to prevent future presidents from banning entry to the country to a group based on religion. The bill was prompted by President Donald Trump's attempt to ban entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries in 2017. Initially rebuffed by the courts, the ban's third iteration eventually went into effect in 2018. President Joe Biden rescinded the ban on his first day in office. 

"Donald Trump’s bigoted and unconstitutional Muslim Ban separated families and forced Muslim-Americans to live in fear,” Horsford said in a release. “We must never allow xenophobia and hatred to govern our nation’s immigration policies again.”

During debate on the House floor, Republicans argued that the bill would make it more difficult for the president to protect the nation. “Without this authority, the president would have been powerless to take simple precautions against terrorists and criminals from entering the United States,” said Rep, Tom McClintock (R-CA), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee.

The House also approved a related bill, the Access to Counsel Act, 217 to 207. The measure would require that immigrants with legal documents who travel through the nation’s ports of entry, like airports, and who are detained have the right to call an attorney or relative. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who introduced the bill, said it was needed following the chaos that ensued after the ban was initially put in place, resulting in people, including legal U.S. residents, being detained for hours with no access to help. 

“They were held because of their Iranian heritage, or ties to the Middle East,” Jayapal said, adding that no one can be legally held just because of their country of origin.

No Republicans voted for the bill, and McClintock raised concerns that the measure would severely slow down operations at the nation’s points of entry.

Infrastructure 

Senate Republicans, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), unveiled a $568 billion infrastructure plan meant to counter Biden's $2 trillion package.

“It serves as a realistic, thoughtful approach that addresses the core areas of infrastructure that we all agree upon,” Capito said Thursday. 

Capito and other Senate Republicans opposed Biden's plan over its price tag, the proposed seven percent corporate tax increase to pay for it and its broad definition of infrastructure, which includes $400 billion to expand access to Medicaid for the care of the elderly and disabled. 

The GOP plan would provide $299 billion for roads and bridges, which is more than the $115 billion Biden’s plan proposed. Under the GOP plan, another $65 billion would go to improving broadband internet, $61 billion to transit and $44 billion for airports.

Biden’s package called for $100 billion for broadband, $85 billion for transit and $25 billion for airports. The president’s plan would also provide $80 billion for Amtrak, whereas the GOP plan would provide $20 billion. 

To pay for their plan, Republicans called for repurposing unspent federal funds, including pandemic-relief aid. 

“The point is not to go out and incur new and additional debt,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) at a press conference unveiling the plan. “We incurred the debt to cover those obligations, but we think they can be put to better use in many cases.” 

Examples of unspent COVID-relief funds include “money that is not scheduled to be spent until the distant future, money that has nothing to do with COVID or the economic response,” Toomey said. “So we think that should be available for this.”

They also called for fees for electric vehicles to ensure those drivers help pay for infrastructure, which the 18.4 percent federal gas tax has traditionally funded. But the tax has not kept pace with the need and Congress has used general funds to make up the difference since 2008.

Democrats were not too welcoming of the GOP plan. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that corporations, who benefit from the infrastructure, should contribute.

“Big corporations certainly use our roads and bridges,” Wyden told reporters Thursday. “And you're going to argue that those big corporations shouldn't pay a penny for infrastructure? Pretty hard to get a bipartisan approach from that.” 

The release of the GOP counteroffer comes as Biden pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030 — and to hit net-zero emissions by 2050. The president held a two-day virtual climate summit last week with world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Gov. Steve Sisolak praised the goal while touting Nevada’s climate strategy goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

“Achieving this new national target will require aggressive, bold action – and collaboration – at all levels,” Sisolak said. “I am proud that Nevada has already taken bold steps to adopt our own emissions reduction targets.” 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that passage of Biden’s infrastructure plan, known as the American Jobs Plan, is key to hitting that target.

“In order to do that, we need the American Jobs Plan,” Pelosi said Thursday at her weekly press conference.

The Biden proposal includes $174 billion to establish a grant program for states and localities to build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2030. It also seeks to replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrify at least 20 percent of the country's yellow school bus fleet.

Capito also speculated that if discussions progress, she too expects climate to be a topic of conversation. 

“I think that when we get to the negotiating phase, climate will be part of the discussion,” Capito said. “They’ve made that very clear.”  

Miscellany

Cortez Masto introduced legislation last week that would allow victims of sexual assault to access state victim compensation funds after deadlines expire if rape kit processing is delayed because of the backlog. Rape kits are used to collect and store evidence in sexual assaults. Many states have a backlog for analyzing them. 

“These funds are essential because they reimburse survivors for medical care, for mental health treatment, for courtroom advocates, but they only get it if they apply within certain time limits,” Cortez Masto said on a call with reporters Thursday. “And that these deadlines are unfair to many rape victims because of the tremendous backlogs in testing rape kits across the nation.”

State deadlines to apply for compensation vary from 18 months to three years. 

Cortez Masto said one possible vehicle for her bill is to attach it to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Authorization of the law expired two years ago and the House passed its reauthorization in March. The bill provides grants to support training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, service providers, and communities to provide comprehensive support for victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence.

Passage of VAWA, which funds law enforcement training for working with traumatized victims, could also help reduce the backlog, said Daniele Staple, executive director of The Rape Crisis Center.

“One of the biggest reasons the backlog exists is law enforcement don't understand trauma and sexual assault survivors, and so they don't believe survivors, and then the case is shelved, and the kit is shelved,” Staple said on the call.

Nevada cleared its backlog of rape kits last year. Cortez Masto championed the passage of a law in 2019 to help states address the backlog.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.1339 – A bill to amend the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 to ensure crime victims are not denied compensation because of rape kit backlogs, and for other purposes.

S.1269 – A bill to require the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to complete an interagency report on the effects of special recreation permits on environmental justice communities, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1360 – A bill to amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 and the Head Start Act to promote child care and early learning, and for other purposes.

S.1351 – A bill to strengthen the security and integrity of the United States scientific and research enterprise.

S.1327 – A bill to amend the Federal Reserve Act to add additional demographic reporting requirements, to modify the goals of the Federal Reserve System, and for other purposes.

S.1315 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of certain lymphedema compression treatment items under the Medicare program.

S.1302 – A bill to amend title II of the Social Security Act to repeal the Government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions.

S.1299 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for the tax-exempt financing of certain government-owned buildings.

S.1298 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for increased investment in clean energy.

S.1256 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a tax credit for investors in start-up businesses, to provide a credit for wages paid by start-up businesses to their first employees, and for other purposes.

S.1255 – A bill to require the Minority Business Development Agency of the Department of Commerce to promote and administer programs in the public and private sectors to assist the development of minority business enterprises, to ensure that such Agency has the necessary supporting resources, particularly during economic downturns, and for other purposes.

S.1238 – A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

S.1229 – A bill to modify the procedures for issuing special recreation permits for certain public land units, and for other purposes.

S.1212 – A bill to address the needs of workers in industries likely to be impacted by rapidly evolving technologies.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1324 – A bill to establish a Civilian Cyber Security Reserve as a pilot project to address the cyber security needs for the United States with respect to national security, and for other purposes.

S.1297 – A bill to amend the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to create a new national program to support mid-career workers, including workers from underrepresented populations, in reentering the STEM workforce, by providing funding to small- and medium-sized STEM businesses so the businesses can offer paid internships or other returnships that lead to positions above entry level.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1360 – A bill to amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 and the Head Start Act to promote child care and early learning, and for other purposes.

S.1315 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of certain lymphedema compression treatment items under the Medicare program.

S.1298 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for increased investment in clean energy.

S.1255 – A bill to require the Minority Business Development Agency of the Department of Commerce to promote and administer programs in the public and private sectors to assist the development of minority business enterprises, to ensure that such Agency has the necessary supporting resources, particularly during economic downturns, and for other purposes.

S.1251 – Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2021

S.1238 – A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 2824 – To promote United States-Mongolia trade by authorizing duty-free treatment for certain imports from Mongolia, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2817 – To amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 and the Head Start Act to promote child care and early learning, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2814 – To repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and provide for the discoverability and admissibility of gun trace information in civil proceedings.

H.R. 2806 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to establish a mission statement of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

H.R. 2774 – To authorize appropriations for climate financing, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2770 – To amend title 49, United States Code, to provide for aviation system enhancements during public health emergencies, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2734 – To improve the reproductive assistance provided by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to certain members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their spouses or partners, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2709 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2719 – To amend title 49, United States Code, to make modifications to the passenger facility charge program administered by the Federal Aviation Administration, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2639 – To establish forest conservation practices through management, reforestation, and utilization which lead to the sequestration of greenhouse gases, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2817 – To amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 and the Head Start Act to promote child care and early learning, and for other purposes.

H.R. 2709 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

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