PolitifactNC

Fact check: Scott says Democrats blocked his police reform bill

Posted May 4, 2021 4:39 p.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2021 4:49 p.m. EDT

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who has called on lawmakers to work together to achieve common ground, said that he proposed a police reform proposal last year, but Democrats thwarted his efforts.

"In 2015, after the shooting of Walter Scott, I wrote a bill to fund body cameras. Last year, after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I built an even bigger police reform proposal," Scott said. "But my Democratic colleagues blocked it. I extended an olive branch. I offered them amendments. But Democrats used the filibuster to block the debate from even happening."

Scott said negotiations with Democrats continue on police reform.

"My friends across the aisle all seem to want the issue more than they wanted a solution," Scott said. "But I’m still working. I’m hopeful that this will be different."

Scott made the comments during his GOP response to President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress.

Scott did propose a police reform bill in June 2020, but Democrats, who preferred their own version, blocked it. Each side accused the other of failing to negotiate in good faith, and neither party got its measure passed into law.

Republicans and Democrats wrote competing police reform proposals in 2020

Following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Senate Republicans and House Democrats wrote separate proposals for police reform.

Scott, the lone Black Republican in the Senate, was tasked with coming up with a police reform plan that would be acceptable to Republicans. Scott unveiled the Justice Act on June 17 and drew dozens of GOP cosponsors.

"I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’m sad that it takes another death to get here," Scott told NBC’s "Today."

House Democrats unveiled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on June 8 and drew widespread support among their party.

Scott’s Senate bill and the House Democrats’ bill had some similarities, such as making lynching a federal hate crime, increased data collection and funding for body cameras. Scott’s bill called for incentives, grants and study, while the Democrats’ version had more mandates. The proposals also had other key differences:

Qualified immunity: Democrats sought to limit qualified immunity to make it easier for victims to sue police officers, while Scott’s bill didn’t change the practice.

Chokeholds: Both aimed to curtail the use of chokeholds, but Scott’s bill had a more narrow definition of chokeholds than the Democrats’ bill. Both cut off funding to agencies as an incentive to create chokehold policies.

No-knock warrants: The Democrats’ bill banned the use of federal no-knock warrants in drug cases and prohibited state and local agencies from receiving funds if they didn’t have a law prohibiting no-knock warrants in drug cases. Scott’s bill called for police agencies to report their use of no-knock warrants to the attorney general.

Military equipment: The Democrats’ bill banned the transfer of surplus military weapons to police departments such as firearms, bayonets and grenades. The Senate version did not have that provision.

President Donald Trump threatened to veto the Democrats’ bill if it reached his desk.

Civil rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund objected to Scott's bill and said it lacked a "strong accountability framework for police officers." The group said it steered more funding to police agencies rather than reimagining public safety and routing money to social services.

The ACLU opposed Scott’s bill and said it failed to address systemic issues such as militarization of police departments and qualified immunity. The ACLU did not endorse or oppose the House Democrats’ police reform bill and called on lawmakers to go further on several provisions.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for creating a bipartisan group to reach a deal, but Republicans sought a vote.

Scott’s bill needed 60 votes to move forward, but it fell short on June 24, when Senate Democrats blocked the bill on a 55-45 vote. Two Democrats, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with independent Angus King of Maine, joined Republicans in voting to move the bill forward.

King said the GOP proposal didn’t go far enough to address racial injustice, but "my concern was that voting against it will end the discussion of this subject in the Senate for the foreseeable future."

Democrats dismissed the GOP bill as a "political game" that didn’t address the concerns of equal justice for Black Americans.

"And we're not going to play that game. And we're not going to be played," then-Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told reporters.

After the bill died, Scott said in a floor speech that he was open to multiple Democrats’ amendments on the bill, such as collecting data on all uses of force and the definition of chokeholds.

"We offered them opportunities, at least 20 I offered, to change it," Scott said. "Their answer to me? You can't offer 20 amendments. I said why not? Because Mitch McConnell won't give 20 amendments. I spoke to Mitch McConnell. He said you can have 20 amendments. I told them that."

Steven S. Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, said the Democrats’ vote was an example of minority obstruction.

The context is that the House had crafted their own version that they preferred.

"Democrats wanted a sign that Republicans would move in their direction on the issue and found the Scott measure to be an inadequate alternative," Smith said. "Both sides could have gone public with half-way measures. Neither side did so."

The Democrats’ legislation passed the House June 25, a day after Scott’s Senate version hit a wall. But the House version didn’t reach a vote in the Senate. Democrats reintroduced the legislation this year, and it passed the House in March but has yet to reach a vote in the Senate.

Bipartisan lawmakers currently negotiating police reform

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s recent conviction for manslaughter and murder led to renewed calls by politicians to pass police reform.

Scott has been trying to negotiate a compromise. The day after Scott’s speech, he was scheduled to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to continue negotiations on the bill. Advocates for Floyd and others who died at the hands of police officers also met with lawmakers from both parties.

One key sticking point for Republicans has been Democrats’ efforts to limit qualified immunity as a defense in civil lawsuits against police officers. Scott has called on making it easier for victims to sue police departments rather than individual officers.

In 2020, Scott said Democrats’ efforts on qualified immunity was a "poison pill."

"When you make it all about the individual officer, you run good cops out, you make it far more difficult to get anything accomplished, but if the actual conversation is around restitution and recourse, you can change the behavior of all officers, not simply one," he told Vox in July 2020.

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: Mostly True

Scott says Democrats blocked his efforts at police reform.

Scott proposed a bill in June 2020, but Democrats blocked it from moving forward. Scott omits the reason that Senate Democrats blocked the measure: They preferred the House version of a police reform bill Democrats put forward the same month.

While both parties faced pressure to adopt police reform, partisan bickering and maneuvers led to nothing passing, and efforts stalled weeks later. Bipartisan negotiations are now underway, but it remains to be seen whether they will reach a compromise.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

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