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House passes four policing bills despite Democratic division

The Hill logo The Hill 9/22/2022 Mychael Schnell
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The House on Thursday moved four policing and public safety bills over the finish line after last-minute opposition from the progressive “squad” almost tanked the package, capping off months of negotiations between progressive and moderate Democrats.

The votes, all of which were bipartisan, came after members of the “squad” threatened to bring down a procedural vote to advance the legislation over concerns of a lack of accountability measures in the legislation, as well as opposition to the fast-track process used to consider two of the four bills.

Resistance from those progressives — Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — delayed the procedural vote and debate for roughly three hours. 

Key negotiators announced a deal on the four policing and public safety bills on Wednesday, setting a floor vote after House leadership twice punted on the legislation earlier this year.

Moderates — especially those running in tight races this November — had been pushing for a vote on public safety measures for months, hoping to tout their pro-police bonafides on the campaign trail as an antidote to Republican attacks that Democrats want to “defund the police.”

But progressives were hesitant to funnel more money to law enforcement without ensuring that safeguards were in place to protect against police abuse.

After eleventh-hour negotiations that took place in the final legislative days before the midterm elections, the two Democratic camps struck a deal on four separate measures.

The bills now head to the Senate, though they are not high on the priority list. Even if they were brought up for consideration in the upper chamber, it is unlikely 10 Republicans would come on board to break a filibuster.

The first bill — titled the Invest to Protect Act and sponsored by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) — passed in a 360-64 vote. Nine Democrats broke with the party and voted against the bill: Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, Bush, Bowman, Tlaib and Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Andy Levin (Ill.), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.).

Gottheimer’s legislation would allocate federal grants to small law enforcement agencies that encompass fewer than 125 officers. The bill initially pertained to departments with no more than 200 officers, but the number was brought down during final negotiations.

Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-Nev.) bill, titled the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, cleared the chamber in a 220-207 vote, with one Republican — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) — siding with Democrats in supporting the measure.

The Nevada Democrat’s legislation hands out grants for coordinated community violence initiatives in areas that see a disproportionate amount of homicides and other forms of community violence. The grants, from the Department of Health and Human Services, would be used to curb such behavior.

The third bill — sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and titled the Mental Health Justice Act — would award funds to train and assign mental health professionals to respond to situations involving individuals with special behavioral needs, rather than sending law enforcement personnel.

The measure passed 223-206, with three Republicans — including Fitzpatrick and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) — joining all voting Democrats in supporting the measure.

And the fourth measure — dubbed the VICTIM Act and crafted Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) — instructs the Justice Department to create a grant program that would support technology being used to help local investigators solve cold cases, especially ones that pertain to gun violence.

Demings’s bill passed in a 250-178 vote, with 30 Republicans joining all Democrats present in supporting the legislation.

The sponsors of the four bills are all running in competitive races this November — Demings is challenging Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for his seat in the upper chamber, and the other three are vying for reelection.

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