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Biparty negotiators advance on police reform bill

A group of bipartisan negotiators are making headway on drafting sweeping police reform legislation, three sources told NBC News, as they move closer to a compromise on one of the most difficult issues facing plague talks: qualified immunity.

Police reform negotiators have made significant progress on qualified immunity, one of the most difficult issues plaguing the bipartisan group of negotiators, the three sources said.

Two of the sources said the problem was “largely” resolved, while the third source said the problem was in a much better location than it was ten days ago, but warned that the whole negotiation was “tenuous”.

The possibility of talks failing is always very real – negotiators have warned throughout the process that nothing is settled until every issue is resolved. Yet significant progress on the critical issue greatly increases the possibility that a bipartisan agreement can be reached.

Negotiators hope to have a bill within the next two weeks, two sources said, which would fit the self-imposed timetable by lawmakers. Senators Tim Scott, RS.C., and Cory Booker, DN.J., have said the timeline for a deal is “June or fail.”

Qualified immunity, the protection of officers from misconduct prosecution, has plagued negotiators and has been a major obstacle to building consensus since talks began.

Republicans have argued that removing protection would hurt police recruitment, while Democrats insist that police must be able to be held accountable for serious misconduct.

Scott insisted that qualified immunity not be eliminated, but was open to reform. He proposed that the police, not an individual officer, be held accountable.

“The deeper you dig into the bill, the more there is to say,” Scott said on Capitol Hill Monday night. “At the end of the day, there are so many devils in the details,” he said, adding that “we are closing that gap.”

Negotiations between Booker, Scott and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., Began in earnest after the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March. Negotiators missed the soft deadline imposed by President Joe Biden to reach a deal before the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, which was May 25.

Senator Lindsey Graham, LRC, who was indirectly involved in the negotiations, told reporters that a provision known as section 242, which protects police officers from criminal liability for police misconduct, is not being eliminated nor reformed in the bill.

Negotiators must not only come to an agreement among themselves, but bring with them enough votes to move through both the House and the Senate – a daunting task on a politically and culturally difficult issue.

NAACP Chairman Derrick Johnson told NBC he wanted to see what the negotiators come up with. “Well until I see the details I can’t say if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I am listening, ”he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Biden’s infrastructure talks with Republicans collapsed as the two sides were too far apart to reach a bipartisan deal.

Julie tsirkin and Gregorian Dareh contributed.

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