Last night the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives passed two pieces of legislation house leadership says will set a new tone to protect both voting rights and protect people’s rights during police actions. Both H.R.1, known as the “For the People Act of 2021”, and H.R. 7120, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” passed with Democrat-only approval. Not a single Republican voted for either bill.
Wednesday evening’s approval of H.R.1 For the People Act of 2021, a sweeping government, ethics, and election bill is designed to counter dozens of state-level Republican efforts to restrict voting access. It would include automatic voter registration; Democrats say it was developed in response to Republican-controlled state legislators advancing state bills designed to make it harder to vote, especially for minorities.
Led from the top by false claims of a rigged 2020 election and widespread fraud, Republican-controlled legislatures in states such as Arizona and Georgia have already moved to pass restrictive measures that limit voting days, restrict voting locations, and requiring new voter ID requirements. Some Republican-controlled states are attempting to substantially eliminate early and mail-in voting, which was expanded last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states such as Colorado have made mail voting their primary election avenue.
While Democrats describe their package as anti-corruption legislation that would expand voting access and improve accountability and transparency in Washington, Republicans are arguing that the legislation limits political speech and represents an overreach. They refer to this as an effort by Democrats to gain an advantage in elections.
“I don’t think the urgency has ever been greater,” Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, who led the effort to pass the legislation, told CNN in an interview. “When you look at what Republicans are doing across the country in statehouses to roll back access to the ballot box, we need to do what we can to establish baseline standards and best practices that allow people to register and vote in America without it being an obstacle course for them.”
George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
The U.S. House took up H.R.7120 the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 late yesterday for the second time, which has been called the most ambitious police reform bill in decades. Lawmakers voted to approve this ambitious reform measure by a vote of 220 to 212, along party lines.
The sweeping legislation would ban chokeholds and “qualified immunity” for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability.
The bill is named for George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, killed nine months ago by Minneapolis police. Ironically one Republican who voted in favor of the bill said he had made a mistake, and changed the House official record to show that he objected to the bill.
The bill includes prohibitions on what is known as “qualified immunity”, a controversial protection that shields law enforcement from certain lawsuits for actions they take while policing.
Both bills will now move to the Senate and it will be up to Senate leadership as to whether either will be reviewed in committee or reach the floor of the Senate for debate. With a razor-thin majority in the Senate, one of the provisions in H.R.7120 that is likely that Republican senators will want to negotiate is the qualified immunity provision.