6.18.2020 Update

Policing Reform

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), with Senate Republican leadership, released the “JUSTICE Act” to address policing reform.  Among other provisions, the bill incentivizes local police departments to ban the practice of chokehold, promote diverse police recruitment, increase greater use of body cameras, improves disclosure of police employment records, and makes lynching a federal crime. It would also reauthorize the Byrne/JAG and COPS programs for 5 years and develop best practices for policing tactics.

Republicans in the Senate and the House are expected to enthusiastically endorse Sen. Scott’s proposal.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate will consider the bill next week.  Now that the Senate Republican bill has been released, we will see if bipartisan discussions can commence.  Of note, 60 votes will be needed to begin consideration of the legislation.  We expect Senate Democrats to vote to get on the legislation, but that does not mean the legislation will pass.  We expect a robust debate and a fight over amendments.  In response to the Senate Republican bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “We don’t need a window-dressing, toothless bill.”  As of right now, the politics on this issue remain very partisan.

Following today’s markup of the “Justice in Policing Act” in the House Judiciary Committee, House Democratic leadership still plans to bring back members for a vote on the bill next week.  Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), a former police officer, who has coordinated and consulted regularly with Sen. Scott, is taking a leading position on policing reform for House Republicans.


COVID Package & Liability Protection

Senate Republicans continue to be in no rush to begin negotiations on the next COVID-relief package.  With the economy on the upswing and a busy Senate schedule (policing reform, NDAA, nominations) over the next several weeks, we expect bipartisan discussions to begin in earnest after the July 4th recess.  Of note, funds for the Paycheck Protection Program will remain available for the foreseeable future and the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program just started this week.

Leader McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) continue working with fellow Senate Republicans on any outstanding concerns.  They are keeping close-hold on the draft bill, owing to sensitivity against overshadowing work on police reforms and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

At this stage, we believe discussions could center on a compromise between the GOP priority of liability protection (which, notably, is something colleges and universities want) and funding for state and local governments, a top concern of Democrats.  As to the substance of the broader COVID-bill, it’s anyone’s guess, as members of all stripes are floating clean-energy grants, employment bonuses, and a payroll tax cut.  Generally speaking, in the face of a V-shaped economic recovery, Republicans want to keep the next bill’s focus tight and its price-tag low.


NDAA and Appropriations

Text of the Senate NDAA is expected to be released soon and, as noted earlier, timing on floor consideration is still in flux due to policing reform legislation jumping it in the cue.  Amendment drafts are already being sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee for consideration. Non-germane amendments will be sent to the committees of jurisdiction for vetting.  Members will be trying to get their priorities in an amendment package—and we’re hearing there might be more than one.

Senate Appropriations Committee is still trying to begin markups of Fiscal Year 2021 funding bills.  Several appropriations subcommittee chairmen and ranking members are expected to agree to bypass subcommittee considerations and move to full committee markups.  It is unlikely all subcommittee bills will be marked up in the committee before the next recess starts.