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House Democrats pass sweeping police reform bill in George Floyd Justice Act

The White House endorsed the bill, saying that "[we] cannot rebuild... trust if we do not hold police officers accountable... and tackle systemic misconduct–and systemic racism–in police departments."

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The House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on Wednesday, a controversial bill which divided Congress along partisan lines, Fox News reports.

The bill passes 220-212, with only a single Republican, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) voting in favour, although he reportedly did so accidentally by pressing the wrong button.

The bill offers an overhaul of policing standards, implementing a number of new regulations designed to prevent abuse of power by police.

Such measures include a ban on no-knock warrants and chokeholds, a mechanism for preventing ethnic and religious profiling, and the creation of a national registry documenting cases of alleged misconduct by police.

The most controversial element of the bill places limits on qualified immunity for police. Qualified immunity is a policy which protects government officials, including police, from being subject to civil lawsuits for their conduct on the job. Republicans have argued that removing qualified immunity would discourage people from entering the police force and undermine public safety.

The White House endorsed the bill following its passage in the House, saying that "[we] cannot rebuild... trust if we do not hold police officers accountable for abuses of power and tackle systemic misconduct – and systemic racism – in police departments."

Many Democrats, most notably progressives, have championed doing away with qualified immunity, with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) saying that it "for too long has shielded law enforcement from accountability and denied recourse for the countless families robbed of their loved ones."

According to Republicans, however, ending qualified immunity does not tackle "systemic" problems in policing as it shifts responsibility away from police departments and onto individual officers.

"[The] way that you make a culture more responsible is making the threshold for suing cities and departments easier because of the egregious acts of individuals," explained Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). "When you make it all about the individual officer, you run good cops out, you make it far more difficult to get anything accomplished."

Scott had previously proposed his own bill for regulating police conduct, but the bill was blocked by Senate Democrats who argued that it did not go far enough.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has also expressed opposition to limiting qualified immunity with a similar justification. "Imagine you're thinking about becoming a police officer and you think you're going to be personally liable for every fracas you try to break up," he said. "Some think you don't become a police officer in that circumstance."

McCarthy once again spoke out against the bill, taking to Twitter to describe it as a move to "defund the police." He argued that "unfunded mandates" in the bill cuts enough money from police departments to the equivalent of removing 3,000 police officers from streets across America.

An unfunded mandate refers to an element of a federal law which requires actions on the part of state or local governments without providing any funding provisions, essentially requiring state and local governments to either find new funds to support the mandates or shift resources from other areas.

The bill faces unclear prospects in the divided Senate, with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressing that it would be difficult to pass through the upper chamber.

"What the Senate will do is what the Senate will do, but we will send over the bill that has the balance that we have in it," Pelosi said of the bill before its passage.

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