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State of Police Reform Legislation on the Hill

State of Police Reform Legislation on the Hill

Violent policing, hyper-surveillance, and criminalization have threatened Black communities and other communities of color for decades. The ills we see today are a direct result of sustained racism and discrimination. A large portion of our Community Health Center patients are far too familiar with these systems which so often result in violence, death, injury, and fear.

We are often encouraged to believe that police officers are here to keep us safe, but many underserved minority communities do not experience the comfort of that safety. It is our responsibility as primary care providers to support what is best for the health and safety of the patients we serve. Public safety and public health experts alike have long stated a need for a greater intersection of the two fields to better serve American communities – particularly those marginalized groups.

Congress has begun an attempt to address issues of violent policing and killings following the uprisings in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this summer.

Here is some current legislation being considered on the Hill:

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120)

This prominent bill lowers the criminal intent standard to federally convict a law enforcement officer, limits qualified immunity, and authorizes the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in police departments in order to investigate discrimination. It also proposes a National Police Misconduct Registry to consolidate complaints and misconduct data. The Act is led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate.

The Justice Act

This bill was led by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and largely supported by the Senate GOP.  The text proposed Reporting requirements on the use of deadly force and would reduce federal funding for police departments which refused to comply. It would also require that “no-knock” warrants be reported to the Justice Department, and lastly it incentivized the ban of chokehold by withholding federal funds to jurisdictions where it was authorized. On June 24, 2020 this bill failed to pass a procedural vote and did not move on to becoming legislation.

The CAHOOTS Act

This legislation, announced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) on August 4, 2020, is set to offer $25 million in Medicaid grants to implement emergency mobile response programs modeled after the Eugene, Oregon-based CAHOOTS program. This program is implemented through the White Bird Clinic, an FQHC, in partnership with local police departments. The program has been found to be highly cost-effective for the city and has shown an improvement in response outcomes. The goal of these programs is to deploy health professionals in the instance where they are found to be better equipped for an emergency. The CAHOOTS Act will also provide enhanced Medicaid funding at 95% for three years for individuals needing emergency mental health or SUD treatments. The bill has not yet been voted on.

Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act (S.4170)

This bill, sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) looks to enhance the ability of the federal government and state Attorney Generals to investigate discrimination practices, similar to Rep. Karen Bass’ House bill, H.R. 7120.

Safe Policing for Safe Communities Executive Order

It is important to also note that the President issued an executive order on June 16, 2020 entitled “Safe Policing for Safe Communities.” The order requires Secretary Azar of HHS to survey existing community-support models for addressing mental health to create further policy recommendations.

Where do these bills stand?

While there was momentum following the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests to address the need for police reform efforts in Congress, a lack of agreement between Democrats and Republicans around the appropriate reform measures has led to an impasse. Without an agreement from both sides, and with COVID related measures taking up the attention of Congress at the moment, it is unclear when and if Congress will support a path forward to make the necessary changes to policing in this country.

For further explanation on these bills and how they will impact Community Health Centers and patients, please contact the NACHC Federal Affairs team at federalaffairs@nachc.org.