Legislation for Change

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23 mins read

For systemic change to happen, we need people with the will to see that change through – and the millions of people in the streets demonstrating for change are proof that we have the will!  But we also need systems to change… and to get that, we need to support and pass great legislation.

The Indivisible/Demcast volunteers with the Member of Congress Tracking Report culled through bills pending in Congress with an eye towards legislation that can change the culture of racism, police brutality and law enforcement militarization.  We looked for bills that were a) introduced by people of color, b) had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, and c) tackled some piece of what the dedicated activists who have taken to the street are trying to change.

For each bill below you will find:

  1. A recap of the basic contents of the bill
  2. A quote from the bill or its sponsor that gets to the crux of the issue
  3. Cosponsorship info for our legislators
  4. A suggested script, in case you want to call and ask your lawmaker to support the bill

Please use these tools to call YOUR lawmakers to ask that they co-sponsor this legislation, or thank them for being an ally if they are already onboard.

You can find the contact information  for your Representative and Senator HERE.

For the House of Representatiives – https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

For the Senate –

H.R. 7120: Justice in Policing Act of 2020

Introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)

Recap – This bill bans chokeholds, limits qualified immunity for police officers, and creates a national registry for police officer misconduct. It would implement a national standard for use of force in police departments. The militarization of local police departments will be halted by limiting the transfer of military equipment to police forces. The bill will give states grants so that their attorneys general can lead data collections efforts on police interactions and use of force. And the US Attorney General will be tasked with creating a national accreditation for police officers.

Want to know more about the Justice in Policing Act?  The Congressional Black Caucus provided this useful fact sheet for your review!

Quote from Rep. Karen Bass, via NPR“The biggest change is a change in police culture – no question about it – raising the standards, having national certification and raising the level of policing in the United States so that it is like many other professions. Teachers have to be certified – doctors, nurses, lawyers. The profession that has the power to kill should be a profession that has national standards, is transparent and is accountable to the public… .I think that my colleagues on either side of the aisle believe that in the United States of America in 2020, there is no excuse for a police department to commit open public acts of abusing the human rights of Americans.”

Cosponsors – 213 Democrats as of 06/15/20

The list of cosponsors is always updating.  Please visit this link for the current list.
And if you need a reminder for who your Representative is in the House, you can find it here.

Script for calling your MoC, if not listed above

“I am calling to ask Representative <name> to support H.R. 7120, the Justice in Policing Act. Our whole nation is crying out for change, and we need Congress to take swift and judicious action. The Justice in Policing Act is a great step forward to provide a more equitable justice system for our nation. This bill will help halt the militarization of our local police and will codify use of force. It creates a national misconduct registry, so that bad police cannot move from department to department. These are necessary changes, and I would like Representative <name> to support them.” 

H. Res. 988: Condemning all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive and militarized force throughout the country

Introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)

Recap (extracted directly from Rep. Pressley’s statement) – the resolution calls for the adoption of reforms and policies at all levels of government to end these injustices including:

  1. Efforts to improve oversight and independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable,
  2. Calling on the Department of Justice to reassert its statutory authority to investigate individual instances of racial profiling, police brutality and violence and investigate and litigate individual law enforcement officers and police departments routinely violating civil rights;
  3. Supporting efforts to establishing all-civilian review boards with the authority to investigate incidents of police misconduct to ensure community-level oversight, accountability, and disciplinary action of police officers; and
  4. The adoption of sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality, racial profiling and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities.

Quote from bill sponsor Rep. Ayanna Pressley, via press release – “For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers. We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability.”


Cosponsors – 174 Democrats as of 06/15/20

The list of cosponsors is always updating.  Please visit this link for the current list.
And if you need a reminder for who your Representative is in the House, you can find it here.

Script – 

“I am calling Representative <name> because I want him/her to know hat I support the peaceful protests calling for the end to police brutality, racial profiling and excessive violence, and I would like to see him/her support those issues as well.  One way the Representative could show that support is to co-sponsor Rep. Pressley’s H. Res. 988, condemning all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive and militarized force throughout the country.”

H.R. 4179: No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act

Introduced by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY)

Recap – This bill would ban any federal taxpayer dollars from being used to “create, maintain, or display” a Confederate symbol on federal public land.  It also calls for the renaming of Department of Defense facilities currently named for Confederate leaders – Fort Rucker, Alabama, Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Gordon, Georgia, Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Fort Lee, Virginia, and Fort Pickett, Virginia.

Quote from co-sponsor Rep. Dwight Evans, via press release – “After the cold-blooded racist murders in a Charleston church and at a Charlottesville rally, there should be no question that in 2019, the Confederate flag is strongly associated with hate and violence stoked by racists and white supremacists. It is an insult to African Americans – and all Americans – to have our tax dollars used to create, maintain or display Confederate symbols on federal property. It’s been over 150 years since the end of the Civil War — these symbols belong in museums, not in places of honor on federal property.”

Cosponsors – 37 Democrats as of 06/15/20

The list of cosponsors is always updating.  Please visit this link for the current list.
And if you need a reminder for who your Representative is in the House, you can find it here.

Script for calling your MoC, if not listed above

“I am calling to ask Representative <name> to support H.R. 4179: No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act. Confederate symbols are signs of hate and racism. American taxpayers who deplore racism and hate should not be funding such symbols with our tax dollars. It’s that simple.  I would like Representative <name> to join me in supporting H.R. 4179.”

H.Con.Res. 100: Urging the establishment of a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation

Introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Recap – This concurrent resolution would create a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT). That body would work to, in the words of the resolution “properly acknowledge, memorialize, and be a catalyst for progress toward jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, embracing our common humanity, and permanently eliminating persistent racial inequities.”

Quote from cosponsor and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, via press release – “The Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Resolution puts us on the path of reconciling our nation’s brutal history with the grave situation we currently face. During the Civil Rights Movement, we studied and sought to realize the philosophy and doctrine of ‘satya,’ or truth, as the guiding force in our work to create a more equal and just nation for Black Americans. By creating a clear, indisputable, public record of the atrocities that African Americans and people of color experienced on a constant, daily basis, we were able to build a movement that transformed the face of our nation. We knew, however, that the roots of racism, bias, and centuries of socio-economic inequality are deep and require a thoughtful, inclusive, and comprehensive effort. This resolution moves our country in the right direction of establishing a model and process to explore, expose, confront, and reconcile the truths of our past so that we may create a more just and equitable future for all, not just a select few.”  

Cosponsors – 124 Democrats as of 06/15/20

The list of cosponsors is always updating.  Please visit this link for the current list.
And if you need a reminder for who your Representative is in the House, you can find it here

Script for calling your MoC, if not listed above

“I am calling to ask Representative <name> to support H.Con.Res. 100: Urging the establishment of a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. The protests and demonstrations that are popping up all over our country show that we have a long way to go before our nation addresses the racial divide in law enforcement.  But even if we change policy, there can be no real healing or moving forward until there has been a full reckoning with our history.  Other countries have used the mechanism of a Truth Commission to heal violent and painful divides, and we should follow that example. I hope Representative <name> will join on as a cosponsor to H. Con. Res. 100.”

S.2163/H.R. 1636: Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act

Introduced by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL, House) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL, Senate)

Recap – According to the Congressional Black Caucus, a bipartisan commission would be created from policy experts and lawmakers, and would work under the framework of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  The group would examine “such issues as mortality and homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance at various grade levels, and health. The commission will be required to produce an annual report of recommendations and solutions that will be submitted to the president and cabinet secretaries, Congress, the chairs of the appropriate committees of jurisdiction, and the public.”

Quote from sponsor Rep. Frederica Wilson, via the Congressional Black Caucus –  “It’s not easy being black and male in America. Despite historic gains made in the last 50 years, black males from all walks of life continue to face challenges and hardships that have created significant disparities in the areas that are most critical to ensuring that our boys have equal opportunities to develop the skills required to become successful men. The commission and its work will provide the atomic blast of long overdue support that this issue merits and desperately needs.”

Cosponsors
In the Senate, there are currently 13 cosponsors; 2 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

The list of cosponsors is always updating.  Please visit this link for the current list of Senators..
https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2163/cosponsors

And if you need a reminder for who your Senators are, you can them here

In the House, there are 151 cosponsors; 150 Democrats and 1 Republican.
The list of cosponsors is always updating. Please visit this link for the current list of Representatives..
And if you need a reminder for who your Representative is in the House, you can find it here

Script for calling your MoC, if not listed above

“I am calling to ask Representative/Senator <name> to support H.R. 1636/S.2163: the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act. Protests and demonstrations across our state are highlighting the unequal treatment faced by people of color, and especially by black men and boys.  Before we can create solutions to address this inequality, we must gather data on issues like school performance, mortality rates, poverty and violence.  From there, a commission of experts can make recommendations to help us establish programs to create a more equitable society.  I hope that Representative/Senator <name> supports addressing racial justice and equity in our country and will join onto H.R. 1636/S.2163 as a cosponsor.” 


BONUS BILL…

H.R. 4: Voting Rights Advancement Act 

Introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL)


Background and RecapWhen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, one of the key provisions was that some geographic areas including most of the south needed federal approval, known as “preclearance,” before they could institute changes to their election laws. This meant that they had to justify to federal authorities that the planned changes would have no effect of discriminating against any voters on the basis of race or language.  Unfortunately, the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the preclearance process for the states included in the 1965 bill. In a recap of the very long decision, Oyez (a source for Supreme Court analysis) explains that the five judge majority found that “although the constraints… made sense in the 1960s and 1970s, they do not any longer and now represent an unconstitutional violation of the power to regulate elections that the Constitution reserves for the states.” While the concept of pre-clearance was not deemed unconstitutional, the current usage of that process against states listed in 1965 is no longer permitted.

Buried deep in the Shelby decision one can find an invitation to Congress in the writing of  Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.  He wrote, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”  One can interpret that to mean that a new formula  for determining what areas need preclearance is acceptable.  The Democratic-led 116th Congress is the first to take up the Chief Justice’s invitation, by way of H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution explains that the bill would “create a new formula for the U.S. Department of Justice to use to determine which states with histories of voting discrimination would be required to pre-clear proposed election changes.”   H.R. 4 got a floor vote in the House last December, under the gavel of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).  The final tally was 228-187. But since that time it has been sitting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s graveyard of pending legislation.

Quote from sponsor, Rep. Terri A. Sewell, via the New York Times – “Selma is still now! I know I’m not the only black and brown colleague of ours who owes their very presence in this chamber to the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.”


Script for calling your Republican Senator
“I am calling to ask that Senator <name> use his influence within the Republican Party to advocate for bringing the Voting Rights Advancement Act to the Senate floor for a vote.  When the Supreme Court decided on Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Chief Justice Roberts issued an invitation to Congress to establish rules to ensure that the voting rights of no American citizen would be infringed upon. The Voting Rights Advancement Act fulfills that request from the Supreme Court by creating fair, updated pre-clearance rules. I hope that Senator <name> values the right of all Americans to access the ballot box as much as I do, and will work to see that H.R. 4 gets a vote in the Senate.”


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