Upton, other lawmakers working on bipartisan police reform bill

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is among a dozen moderate U.S. House lawmakers who are working on bipartisan police reform bill "that moves the ball forward," he said Tuesday. 

Upton's comments came during the seventh day of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is charged with murder and manslaughter after George Floyd died last May after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes while he said he couldn't breathe. The video of Floyd's final moments sparked nationwide protests against police brutality that continued throughout the summer.

The group, around a quarter of the House "Problem Solvers" Caucus, has spent 10-12 hours over the last few weeks "listening to experts around the country, trying to find the right spot so that we really get police reform in a place that most of America will accept," Upton said. 

He was speaking on a panel hosted by Oakland University on political civility alongside Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly. They are also members of the caucus, which aims to find bipartisan policy solutions to pressing problems.

"We're working with the Congressional Black Caucus, we're working with senators, we're working with the White House, and we're working with Republicans and Democrats," Upton said. "And hopefully in the next week or two we're going to have something that's ready to go that moves the ball forward that really has bipartisan support."

Demonstrators march down Michigan Ave. and through downtown Detroit, June 14, 2020 to protest racism, police brutality, and the death of George Floyd.

Upton spokesman Josh Paciorek declined to share details of what the bipartisan bill would include.

Upton was one of three Republicans to vote last year in support of a police reform bill named after Floyd.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, would have banned no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, prohibited choke holds, formed a national registry of police misconduct, made it easier to convict police for misconduct at the federal level and limited use of qualified immunity, a judicial defense that shields law enforcement from personal liability for violating someone's constitutional rights.

The bill passed the Democrat-led House but was never taken up in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans. 

Upton said in a statement at the time that "systemic racism is all too real" and there's a pressing need to "dismantle it," but added that he had "talked with a number of law enforcement officials across my district and share their real concerns about the qualified immunity provision, which would truly hinder their ability to train and recruit good officers. This provision — as is — cannot and should not become law."

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

Paciorek said via email that Upton and others in the caucus has been working with Bass to find a solution that would take the changes to qualified immunity out of the bill.

When the negotiations weren't included in the final bill that came up again for a vote last month — this time with Democrats controlling the Senate and White House — Upton voted against it. 

Reps. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, and Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, are also members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Spokespeople for Slotkin and Dingell did not immediately return requests for comment on whether they are part of the team working on the legislation. Spokespeople for Stevens and Meijer said they were not involved in working on the legislation, with Meijer's office adding that he looks forward to reviewing it when it's available to the caucus.

Floyd's death last summer was the catalyst for weeks of protests in cities nationwide against inequitable policing and police violence, including in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Flint and elsewhere in Michigan. 

Protesters called for a major overhaul of the policies that aim to hold police accountable, and some cities and states followed suit. Several cities and states banned choke holds, increased requirements for body cameras, passed more stringent reporting and transparency policies and more.

But no major federal legislation to change policing has passed since Floyd's death. The police reform bill, dubbed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, is awaiting consideration in the Senate. 

Chauvin, who is white, is standing trial in Minneapolis for causing Floyd's death. Chauvin and three other officers involved were fired the day after Floyd died, with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo calling it "murder."

Prosecutors are arguing Chauvin should not have used that method to restrain Floyd and that it caused his death, while Chauvin's lawyers say he followed his training and that drug use and underlying health conditions caused Floyd's death. 

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin