WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield voted with an eight-member House majority to pass a wide-ranging police reform measure on Wednesday.
The House approved H.R. 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, on a 220-212 vote. Butterfield, D-Wilson, is a cosponsor of the legislation.
“Last summer, North Carolinians and all Americans were forced to reckon with the horrors of police brutality and racial injustice after witnessing the murder of George Floyd,” Butterfield said in a statement released by his office Wednesday night. “Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, the U.S. House of Representatives has once again passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This bill will deliver urgently needed reforms to address systemic racism in policing and increase transparency and accountability.”
A former Congressional Black Caucus chairman, Butterfield serves as one of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s top two lieutenants as a member of the chamber’s Democratic leadership.
The bill seeks to ban police officers’ use of chokeholds to subdue suspects, eliminate no-knock warrants in drug cases, end the qualified immunity doctrine that blocks constitutional and civil rights lawsuits against officers and require law enforcement agencies to use body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras.
It would also establish a registry of police officers disciplined for misconduct to ensure agencies can evaluate applicants’ career history as law enforcement officers.
The bill’s namesake, George Floyd, died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25 after then-Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Chauvin and three fellow officers who assisted with Floyd’s arrest were fired.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death, and jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin next week.
“I stand with countless North Carolinians to proclaim that Black Lives Matter and that the tragic killing of George Floyd must result in action to honor his life,” Butterfield said. “I remain committed to working with the Biden-Harris administration and the millions of Americans demanding action. We will not stop working until the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act becomes law.”
The bill now advances to the Senate, where Democrats control the flow of legislation because Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote gives them a 51-50 advantage. President Joe Biden has signaled his support.
The National Association of Police Organizations opposed the bill, contending that law enforcement groups weren’t given input in crafting its provisions and that ending qualified immunity along with changing the standards for criminal intent could place well-meaning officers in legal jeopardy.
“Combined, these two provisions take away all good faith legal protections for officers while making it easier to prosecute them criminally for good faith mistakes on the job, not just criminal acts,” NAPO Executive Director William J. Johnson wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Republican critics say H.R. 1280 would impose unfunded mandates on local police departments that have the practical effect of “defunding” the agencies, though the legislation doesn’t prevent communities from boosting police budgets to cover extra costs.
“House Democrats obviously didn’t learn their lesson in 2020,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said in a statement. “By voting to make it harder for local law enforcement to protect their communities, House Democrats just ignored every single American who told them they didn’t want to defund the police.”
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