Bipartisan negotiators making progress on police reform bill

Bipartisan negotiators making progress on police reform bill

A group of bipartisan negotiators is making headway on sweeping police reform legislation, three sources told NBC News, as they narrow in on a compromise on one of the most challenging issues plaguing the talks: qualified immunity.

The policing reform negotiators have made significant progress on qualified immunity, one of the most challenging issues plaguing the bipartisan group of negotiators, the three sources said.

Two of the sources said that the issue is “mostly” settled, while the third source said the issue is in a much better place than it was ten days ago, but cautioned that the entire negotiation is “tenuous.”

Opportunity for talks to fall apart is still very real — negotiators have been warning throughout the process that nothing is settled until every issue is settled. Still, the significant progress on the critical issue greatly increases the possibility that a bipartisan agreement can be reached.

The negotiators hope to have draft legislation within the next two weeks, two sources said, which would fit the lawmakers’ self-imposed timeline. Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., have said that the timeline for a deal is “June or bust.”

Qualified immunity, protection for officers from being sued for misconduct, has been plaguing negotiators and been a major roadblock to reaching consensus since the talks began.

Republicans have argued that eliminating the protection would harm police recruitment, while Democrats insist that police officers must be able to be held accountable for serious misbehavior.

Scott was adamant that qualified immunity not be eliminated but has been open to reforms. He proposed that the police departments, not an individual officer, be held liable.

“The more you dig into the bill, the more there is to talk about,” Scott said at the Capitol on Monday night. “Ultimately, there are so many of the devil being in the details,” he said, adding that, “We’re closing that gap.”

The negotiations between Booker, Scott and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., began in earnest after the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March. The negotiators missed the soft deadline imposed by President Joe Biden to reach an agreement by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, which was on May 25.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been tangentially involved in the negotiations, told reporters that a provision known as Section 242, which protects police officers from facing criminal liability for police misconduct, is neither eliminated nor reformed in the bill.

The negotiators not only have to agree amongst themselves but bring with them enough votes to pass in both the House and the Senate – a tall task on a politically and culturally difficult issue.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson told NBC he wants to see what the negotiators come up with. “Well until I see the details, I can’t say whether it is a good or bad thing. But I’m listening,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Biden’s infrastructure talks with Republicans collapsed as the two sides were too far apart to reach a bipartisan deal.

Julie Tsirkin and Dareh Gregorian contributed.

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