Heinrich, Udall help block GOP police bill

By:  Scott Turner

New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall were among Democrats who blocked a Republican police reform bill Wednesday, calling it “flawed” and “inadequate.”

The legislation, called the Justice Act, failed to receive the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. It failed on a 56-44 vote. The House is expected to vote on a measure similar to legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in the Senate. That bill, the Justice in Policing Act, is co-sponsored by Udall and Heinrich.

“Unfortunately, the Republican majority is not taking this issue seriously. They have bypassed an open legislative process, failed to seek bipartisan negotiation, and are prioritizing the illusion of action over substance,” Udall said in a news release.

He called the Republican bill “fundamentally flawed, plain and simple – offering more studies, data, and loopholes instead of acting to ban chokeholds or no-knock warrants, or increase police accountability and transparency in a meaningful way.”

“The reality is that we already have generations of lived experiences, years of studies, and an ever increasing stream of live videos on social media to tell us how our current law enforcement infrastructure affects people of color” Heinrich added.

The Republican bill and the bill backed by Heinrich and Udall address some of the same issues. Both call for law enforcement agencies to release information to the federal government about cases when force is used.

The Republican version would only provide data on the use of deadly force or force that causes serious injuries, and “no-knock” warrants. The Democratic bill would require data on the race and ethnicity of the people involved.

Disciplinary records would be made available through both bills, but the Democratic version would create a national registry that would make some records public.

In an interview with the Journal, Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shawn Willoughby was critical of making records public, saying information “should be used within the law enforcement community.

The Republican bill would not modify qualified immunity for police officers, while the Justice in Policing Act would open officers up to lawsuits in cases of police misconduct.

Willoughby said eliminating qualified immunity would make it harder to recruit quality officers and said departments would need to pay officers “triple” of what they’re paid now because officers would have to pay for their own liability insurance.

And the Republican bill would not make it easier to prosecute police officers.

It would require changes in training and when excessive force is used. Police departments would be penalized for not making body cameras mandatory, and grant funding could be cut for departments not banning choke holds except in cases where deadly force is necessary.

Both bills would make lynching a federal crime.