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Rep. Bass Downplays Role Of Qualified Immunity In Stalled Police Reform Bill

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., has been one of the lead Democrats trying to forge an agreement over a policing bill.
Drew Angerer
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Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., has been one of the lead Democrats trying to forge an agreement over a policing bill.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a lead negotiator trying to forge an agreement over a policing bill, downplayed the role that the controversial issue of qualified immunity has played in stalled bipartisan talks.

Qualified immunity protects police and government officials from being held personally liable for civil violations committed while on the job.

It is also one of progressives' major priorities on police accountability.

Speaking to All Things Considered's Ailsa Chang on Thursday, Bass said there had been discussions of allowing for police departments to be sued rather than individual police officers, but that the subject had not dominated the bipartisan negotiations.

"It is a compromise that has been discussed," Bass said. "I will tell you that qualified immunity still remains up in the air. But contrary to the press coverage, we have spent very little time talking about qualified immunity.

"The bulk of our time have been talking about the other 18 to 19 aspects of the bill because frankly, if we could reach agreement on the majority of those, we would still have a substantial piece of legislation. Then we can look back at qualified immunity."

Another lead negotiator — South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the lone Black Republican in the chamber — said on Fox News Sunday recently that allowing civil lawsuits against individual officers is "dead stop, not going to happen."

Bass' interview comes as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has been languishing in the Senate. She and the two other negotiators, Scott and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., announced a month ago that they had "reached an agreement on a framework," but there's been no apparent progress since. The House passed the bill in March.

"The hurdle is the Senate," Bass said. "And, you know, it's the hurdle with every single piece of legislation because of the filibuster, you have to get 60 votes. And so that puts Tim Scott in the catbird seat." She noted he's up for reelection in 2022.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.