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Sunday December 4th, 2022 5:24PM

House Dems close in on police funding bills despite tensions

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats worked to pass a long-sought policing and public safety package and overcome internal party differences on legislation they hoped to make central to their election-year pitch.

A procedural vote to start debate barely succeeded, 216-215, after Democratic leaders spent hours wrangling with progressives who were threatening to block the package. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California asked Democrats to hold the vote open, saying another GOP lawmaker was on the way, but Democrats gaveled it to a close.

Final votes were expected Thursday afternoon. Passage would send the bills to the Senate, where the legislation's fate is uncertain.

The package would increase money for local police departments, including those with fewer than 125 officers, and provide aid for de-escalation training and mental health services. A priority is reducing fatal encounters between police and people with mental illness.

“The bottom line is that you can’t cut it or defund your way to safer communities and better police departments,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., one of the lead negotiators, said during debate. “It’s about investing to protect. We must always have the backs of those who risked their lives every day to protect us.”

A few progressive Democrats bemoaned what they said was the lack of accountability measures that party once sought after the police killing of George Floyd sparked protests against racial injustice.

Rep. Cori Bush, who rose to prominence as an activist leader in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, said the funding bill does little to address “the crisis of police brutality." But she said she would vote for the others parts of the package.

The opposition came despite support from the legislation for top progressives Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Ilhan Omar D-Minn., who this week negotiated the package with Gottheimer, a New Jersey moderate. After a deal was announced Wednesday, Democratic leaders quickly moved to bring the bills to a vote.

To get more liberals on board, language was included that would allow the Justice Department to have discretion over which police departments are permitted to receive the grants. It would also allocate $50 million for data collection on police practices and community safety.

“With this package, House Democrats have the opportunity to model a holistic, inclusive approach to public safety, and keep our promise to families across the country to address this issue at the federal level,” Omar and Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.

A policing package that passed in the House in March 2021 went much further, including banning police chokeholds and altering so-called qualified immunity for law enforcement, which would make it easier to pursue claims of police misconduct. None of those provisions was included this time.

The new package, Gottheimer said, has the support and input of law enforcement groups like the National Association of Police Organization and the Fraternal Order of Police.

It was unclear whether the bills would win many Republican votes. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., is a cosponsor of Gottheimer's funding bill and urged for his colleagues to join him in supporting it.

“This is for our law enforcement men and women. This is for those small agencies,” said Rutherford, a former sheriff in Jacksonville. “We need to be able to help them out. And I can tell you the last 2 1/2 years has left law enforcement demoralized like never before I’ve seen it.”

But other Republicans called the Democrats' package a last-ditch effort to win over voters in the November elections.

“Democrats are bringing out these bills today because we're 46 days from a midterm election,” Rep. Pete Stauber R-Minn., said. “They want the American people to suddenly and miraculously believe that they care about the crime crisis plaguing our nation.”

___

Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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