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Bipartisan police reform bill moves through Florida statehouse

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A bill focusing on a number of controversial police tactics is currently making its way through the Florida statehouse. Florida Representative and member of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus Fentrice Driskell joins CBSN to explain what this legislation would do.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: A bipartisan police reform bill is moving through the Florida state house that focuses on a number of controversial police tactics. The bill includes a ban on chokeholds under certain circumstances. It also requires officers to intervene and stop another use of excessive force, when reasonable.

Joining me now to break down the bill is Florida State Representative and member of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus Fentrice Driskell. Thank you so much for being here, Representative. Before we get into the specifics of-- of the bills that you're working on, tell me, how is your community reacting after this week's verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: Well, thank you. I'll tell you that there is a sense of relief, a sense that there is some accountability in the murder of George Floyd. But there also is that feeling of incompletion in the sense that there is much more that we need to do in the way of securing justice, not just for the family of George Floyd, but the families and survivors of so many unarmed Black people who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement in this community-- or nationwide, rather. And that's why I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to work on police reform here in Florida.

LANA ZAK: So let's get into it. You're sponsoring Florida's Law Enforcement and Correction Officers Practice bill. Can you give us an overview of what's included?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: Absolutely. So with House Bill 7051, you see a number of measures to build in accountability and transparency with respect to policing. For starters, there'll now be training on the duty to intervene. And you think about that with the example of George Floyd. If the other officers who were standing around watching Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, if they would have had a duty to intervene would George Floyd still be here now? So that's very important.

A new duty to render medical assistance. So if there's someone in custody who appears to need or saying that they need medical assistance, now officers would be required to provide that. Greater transparency and data collection on use-of-force incidents that will now have to be captured and reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement so that we can see if there are officers who are engaging in this pattern of bad behavior repeatedly and maybe there can be some intervention to prevent future bad acts.

LANA ZAK: Well, the bill also set standards on the use of chokeholds by law enforcement. Why does this bill limit chokeholds, not ban them?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: Well, we see that limit-- and there are some law enforcement agencies in Florida that have banned chokeholds. For example, there are some that have adopted the 8 Can't Wait sort of policies and procedures that were put forth under the Obama administration. But I will just say that this bill is a good first start. And for the agencies that have not yet banned chokeholds, at a minimum we are now requiring them to use them in a very limited way. And I do hope that we can get to that place of banning chokeholds statewide, but this is an important step in the right direction.

LANA ZAK: You know, as you're saying it's an important step in the right direction, I'm reminded of the intro that I spoke of when I was bringing you in, that this is, in fact, a piece of legislation that has bipartisan support. Do you-- do you think that as state legislatures are trying to work through legislation to improve police accountability that compromises need to be made in order to get Republicans and Democrats on board?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: That's absolutely right. I think that when we-- we tend to get so politicized, overly politicized, and we-- and we tend to retreat to our own camps and to our own bases. But that's not really reflective of the communities that we serve. A lot of people are squarely in the middle or, at a minimum, what they want to see is practical solutions from their state legislatures.

So that is what is so exciting to me about this bill. The Florida Legislative Black Caucus started meeting last summer in the wake of the protest after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and thinking through what we could do. We came up with these policy proposals.

We took it to House Democratic Caucus leadership and Senate leadership, as well as Republican leadership, and said, let's talk together. Let's come up with some solutions. And the result, I think, is a very good bill that, like I mentioned, is a great step in the right direction towards improving and supporting just and fair policing in Florida.

LANA ZAK: I want to dig into another aspect of the bill, which calls for a database to track police shootings and use of force. Can you talk about this and why lawmakers, like yourself, felt like this was really important?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: This is a critical aspect of the bill, a very critical component of the bill. And you know, communities of color for years have been saying, we feel over-policed. We feel that we're stopped too much, that when we are stopped, it can quickly turn into an incident where force has been used. Well, we need to capture that data, because data doesn't lie, much like the video of George Floyd.

It breaks my heart that it took that for America to wake up and realize that Black people are too often-- Black and brown people too often killed when they are unarmed at the hands of law enforcement. But I think with this data, data tells a story, and we want to be able to capture that data so that we can tell that story in Florida and really think through any additional reforms that may be required to make sure that all communities are policed equally and fairly.

LANA ZAK: So what's the next move on these bills? Because, as you mentioned, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus put together this-- this police reform package with policies that would support fair policing, but you've also said despite the conversation about enthusiasm for bipartisanship, you've said in previous statements that the caucus is not seeing these bills passed as quickly as you'd like. Why are they stalling?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: So that statement about the bills not moving as quickly as we would like was issued, literally, just before we had House bill 7051 come together. And with Florida, we have a--

LANA ZAK: OK.

FENTRICE DRISKELL: --part-time legislature which means we only meet for 60 days. And so you're immediately on the clock just as soon a session starts. And so, of course, we want to see all of this come together as quickly as possible. But the good thing is that in the background negotiations never stopped.

And so we have this bill on the floor. It passed out of its two-- two committee stops unanimously, and it will be on the floor for a full vote of the Florida House on Monday. I fully anticipate that it will pass without a hiccup and with bipartisan support. We will then send it over to the Senate so that they can pass it. And then we can send it to the governor and it will become law.

LANA ZAK: Sounds like you are optimistic and excited about the future of these bills. Before I let you go, though, I want to ask you about something else happening in your state, because one day after the Chauvin verdict, a state attorney's office there in Florida announced that it was not filing charges against a deputy who killed two teens last November. What message do you think that sends? And how do you feel about that decision?

FENTRICE DRISKELL: Thank you for-- for raising that issue, because it's tragic and it caused pain-- it causes pain in the hearts of so many throughout communities of color in Florida. And I look at that as a situation and I just wonder, OK, how could a situation like that be prevented or improved upon with the bill that we're in the process of passing now, with a bill that is requiring training on de-escalation techniques before it ever gets to the point where an officer is using force? And look, I get it. Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities, and we certainly appreciate that.

But those-- those young boys in the car, I wonder what they were feeling, what they were going through. And they probably were very afraid and may not have even been thinking that they would have gotten a fair shake if-- based on just that traffic stop. So it's a very heartbreaking situation. My heart goes out to the families. But that's why we have to continue pushing forward for these reforms. This is a great first step, and I'm sure there's much more to do.

LANA ZAK: Representative Fentrice Driskell, thank you.