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House Democrats pass sweeping elections bill and major legislation on overhauling police

House Democrats passed a landmark bill Wednesday that would expand voting rights and another key piece of legislation on police reform through the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act -- something Democrats have been pushing for since the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests last year. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Despite similar debates in several states with Republican-majority legislatures, here in Washington, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark bill that would expand voting rights.

    Lisa has been tracking that legislation as well. And she is here now.

    So, Lisa, hello.

    Tell us what is in this legislation passed by the House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, what the House has been doing this week is addressing issues that are really about American identity and, as you heard in that piece, who gets power in America.

    And that starts with H.R.1, the For the People Act. Let's look at the top lines in this very sweeping bill. First of all, this bill would make put no-excuse absentee voting, basically easy absentee voting, and two weeks of early voting in place in every state in this country for federal elections.

    It would also take on gerrymandering by putting independent commissions in place in every state. So, partisan line-drawing would end in this bill. It would also force disclosure of top dark money donors. Anyone who donates over $10,000, say, to super PACs, their name would have to be made public.

    In addition, it would start some new public campaign financing ideas that would use some fees and penalty money to try and match some dollars given to some congressional campaigns.

    Now, this bill is wide-sweeping. It also has things in it that seemed pretty closely targeted to recent times, including it would require all presidential candidates to disclose their tax forms.

    But the question is, can this bill which passed the House, can it get anywhere in the Senate? And, right now, it does not look like it. It doesn't seem that any Republicans are even considering getting on board.

    Now, Chuck Schumer, this is an example of a bill where he could try to break the filibuster if he wanted to. But could he even get 50 votes? It's not clear. But this is an example of Democrats, especially in the House, leaning left on a very big issue that they see as systemic. And for many of their members, this is very closely tied, as you heard in the piece, to issues of race and what they see happening in state legislatures around the country right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, as you know very well, the House also last night passed a piece of legislation on policing reform, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, this in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police last year in Minneapolis.

    This is something Democrats have been pushing for ever since.

    Tell us what's in that legislation.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is another absolutely critical topic that this country has been talking about, having conversations about, but that lawmakers at the federal level have not acted on.

    This is the House passing a bill it passed again last year, hoping it has a better chance at this time. Let's remind people what's in this George Floyd Act. Part of this bill, a big part of it would be providing a national registry of police misconduct, so that police who are accused or who are found guilty of misconduct for use of force, that would be known throughout the country, and the public would be able to see some of that information.

    It would end police immunity also from civil lawsuits. Right now, civilians cannot sue police officers if they feel their constitutional rights are violated, not as individuals. There would be a federal ban on choke hold and no-knock warrants.

    And then this bill would also then try to incentivize local and state police forces to similarly ban those choke holds and the no-knock warrants by tying federal funding to that idea.

    Now, that is an idea, Judy, as you heard, I think, from Senator McConnell earlier in the show that Republicans rail against. They think that is overreach and the federal government trying to tell state and local powers what to do.

    Of course, it's a classic example of the Congress using the power of the purse, as it has for many years. There are 18,000 police agencies right now. And, of course, many — there are also thousands of federal police officers. And this is the House trying to do something on this absolutely critical issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Lisa, what does that…

  • Rep. Andy Biggs:

    Any member who is opposed to defunding the police should be opposing this bill. It removes qualified immunity, which will result in an ineffectual police force and leave our communities vulnerable to crime.

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    If this legislation had been the law of the land several years ago, Eric Garner and George Floyd would be alive today, because the bill bans choke holds.

    If the bill had been law last year, Breonna Taylor would have not been shot to death in her sleep, because no-knock warrants for drug offenses would have been illegal.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And that, of course, shows you how passionate the debate was yesterday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Lisa, what is expected next, when it goes to the Senate?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, it looks like this bill, as it was passed in the House, probably won't pass intact.

    But there are negotiations under way. There is some very significant bipartisan interest in this issue. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Republican, was the author of a different bill last year. And he is in negotiations. He says he's interested in talking to Democrats in the House.

    They say they're trying to come up with something that everyone can agree on. I will tell you I also had one of my longest conversations ever with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska about this topic. There are certainly a dozen Republicans in the Senate who want to pass something.

    Now, can they agree? Hard to say, but this is an issue that may have a chance in the Senate. We will see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins following all these important issues on Capitol Hill.

    Lisa, thank you.

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