Senate Democrats Block Debate of Police Reform Legislation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) today voted with 54 of his colleagues to begin debate on the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, a major law enforcement reform bill introduced by Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), which came up short of the 60 votes necessary to begin consideration on the Senate floor. Following the vote, Senator Sullivan released a video message to Alaskans to express his support for the JUSTICE Act and urge Senate Democrats to allow the Senate to begin debate on the legislation.
Greetings, Alaska. I want to talk to you briefly about a bill, the Justice in Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020, also known as the JUSTICE Act that was introduced by my friend and colleague, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. I was proud to be one of the original co-sponsors on that bill, which would introduce much-needed police reforms across our nation, which, disappointingly, is now being blocked from consideration—even starting to get on the floor and debate it—by some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, the Senate Democrats.
At the outset, what I want to say is that the vast, vast majority of our public safety officers in America, and especially in Alaska, are very honorable, putting their lives on the line for us every single day to keep us safe. [This is] what I call sacred duty and I've talked about this many times before in my Senate career (and) in my career as attorney general. But, still, as recent events have shown, particularly the horrendous killing of George Floyd, not everybody has trust in their local police officers, and reforms were needed. I think that that is something that most Americans, most Alaskans, I would even say most people in law enforcement, agree on, and that's what this bill, the JUSTICE Act, does and gives us.
It's a serious, sober bill that begins to implement practical, commonsense reforms, many of which are already being implemented or have already been implemented in police forces throughout Alaska, like ending chokeholds, training officers to deescalate tense and difficult and potentially violent situations, and having prior employment records play a greater role in future hiring, so you can see what has happened in someone's background.
It increases accountability, puts more body cameras on police on the streets, which, again, most people, including officers, want. And [it] implements new best practices for issues, like discipline, suspension or dismissal, when necessary, and transparency on issues when law enforcement officers are forced to use their weapons, a database on that. We don't even have all of that nationally.
The JUSTICE Act also contains very important provisions that are way, way overdue, shockingly overdue. First, it will finally make the horrific act of lynching a federal crime. If you can believe it, that has not been a federal crime, and that's clearly unacceptable.
Secondly, it closes the so-called consent loophole with regard to sexual assault. Now, again, I want to reiterate here the vast majority of our law enforcement, particularly in our great state, are great Americans, great Alaskans who serve us well with honor and with distinction. But on rare occasions, and there have been those, there are some bad apples who have taken advantage of this loophole to claim that a sexual encounter with someone in their custody was consensual in order to avoid assault charges. This is obviously beyond reprehensible, but it has happened, and we have to stop it. This bill closes that loophole. No consent if you're under custody of a law enforcement official. Period.
Overall, I believe the JUSTICE Act is a good bill. It's not a perfect bill, but it would advance some important reforms. It also focuses on more resources to our law enforcement, not defunding the police, which I adamantly oppose and would be horrible for Alaska, especially in our rural communities, to have less funding for law enforcement. We actually need more. Unfortunately, it's disappointing that my Senate Democratic colleagues have chosen not only to block voting on the JUSTICE Act, but blocking it from even being debated on the floor. There would have been some good ideas. They could have brought amendments. I hope we can still do this, (including) some that I'm looking at. But, right now, they're refusing to even allow a debate on the bill and amendments for the bill to begin the process here on the Senate floor. Given all that's going on in the nation right now, I don't believe this is a responsible way to address some of these significant challenges.
But Alaskans, all of you should know we will continue to work on this. We're not giving up. All Americans, all across our state and across our nation, need to be able to trust their police force, and our law enforcement needs resources and incentives to undertake commonsense reform. That's what the JUSTICE Act does and we’re going to continue to work on it. Thank you.
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