Cortez Masto pans ‘watered down’ Republican police reform bill

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Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on the Senate floor when the CARES Act was passed in March. (Senate office screenshot)

WASHINGTON — Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto panned a police reform bill unveiled by Senate Republicans Wednesday, calling it a “watered-down version” of a more comprehensive proposal backed by congressional Democrats.

In an interview, the Democrat said she is still reading through the bill but has concerns that it “really doesn’t address the reform that we need and the societal change that we need at this moment.” 

The first Latina in the U.S. Senate, Cortez Masto added that action on the issue is imperative. “There is no doubt that we have to end the brutality against Black Americans,” she said.

The Senate GOP bill would incentivize police departments to ban chokeholds, increase the use of body-worn cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and take officers’ prior records into greater account when hiring.

It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants and make lynching a federal crime, among other things.

“When Black Americans tell us they do not feel safe in their own communities, we need to listen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The proposal, however, drew rebukes from Democratic leaders, who called it an “inadequate” response to police brutality and racial inequity — issues that have roiled the nation in recent weeks.

Unlike the Republican alternative, the Democrats’ bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and address qualified immunity.

It would also address racial and religious profiling and limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials. The Senate version does not take up either issue.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee marked up the Democratic measure Wednesday. It has more than 218 co-sponsors, virtually ensuring passage in the House chamber.

Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford have signed on to the bill. The state’s other two House lawmakers — Democratic Rep. Susie Lee and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei — are not listed as cosponsors.

Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen supports the Democratic bill because it would set national standards that address excessive use of force and because it takes “concrete steps” to ban no-knock warrants in drug cases, prohibit chokeholds and ensure accountability, her spokeswoman said.

Cortez Masto is reviewing both proposals and exploring how each would impact Nevada.

A ‘false, binary choice’

GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — a Black Republican who led the Senate GOP police reform effort — said Wednesday the GOP bill aims to restore confidence in institutions of authority among people of color but also voiced strong support for law enforcement.

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Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is joined by fellow Republican lawmakers for a news conference to unveil the GOP’s legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol June 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Supporting one or the other is a “false, binary choice,” he told reporters.

He also said he sees significant overlap between Democratic and Republican approaches.

The Democratic bill includes provisions from legislation backed by Cortez Masto that would provide grants to states that require independent investigations of officers’ use of deadly force — issues that could overlap with GOP interests.

She said she has been talking about the issue with members and leaders of the Black community as well as students and leaders in law enforcement, law and politics. 

She has also listened to families of people who were killed by police officers. “It was emotional,” she said. It’s important to “recognize what is happening in this country” and to come together to make change.

Racism and discrimination, she added, go far beyond policing — shaping inequity in housing, banking, education and health care. “I see it in so many areas.”

To that end, Cortez Masto is backing legislation that would provide $1.5 million in health equity grants in communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. And she and Rosen have called on the Trump administration to streamline and simplify a federal loan program to ensure small and underserved businesses can access loans amid the pandemic. 

Also on her wish list: expanding access to health care coverage in future coronavirus relief legislation; providing funding for state and local governments, which are facing massive revenue shortfalls as a result of the pandemic; and addressing behavioral health needs.

Though police reform currently dominates the public discourse, health care remains a top concern for voters — especially in the middle of a health crisis, said Cortez Masto, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“We are on the pathway to flipping the Senate,” she said. Trump is “continuing to fight to take away health care in this country and has done nothing to lead us out of this COVID-19 pandemic. So I think that is going to have an impact across the country.”

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a Washington D.C. reporter for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.