Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts announced the BREATHE Act on Tuesday -- legislation that would radically transform the nation's criminal justice system by eliminating life sentences, retroactively expunging drug crimes, shutting down multiple federal agencies and permanently closing prisons and immigration detention centers, among other agenda items.
The bill also seeks to end gang databases, establish pilot programs for a universal basic income, and afford voting rights and "lifetime education" to all illegal immigrants and incarcerated criminals.
The bill's fate in the Democratic-controlled House is unknown, as not all members support defunding the police. The movement that grew out of nationwide protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed after Derek Chauvin, a White Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes -- despite Floyd saying that he couldn’t breathe.
The House passed a sweeping police reform bill last month. All 233 Democrats voted in favor of the bill -- titled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act -- along with three Republicans. The Senate voted 55-45 in favor of the bill, but it needed 60 votes to move forward.
Republicans have critical of the separate effort to fully defund the police. Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., called the plan "clearly a serious effort to compete in the Woke Olympics. I would give it 9.7....The only way I know how to improve their bill is with the shredder."
Here's a brief summary of what's in the BREATHE Act.
Section 1: Divesting from police
- Divesting from agencies like the DEA and ICE as well as moving federal resources away from incarceration and policing
- Eliminate ankle monitors
- End civil asset forfeiture, which even some conservatives say is readily open to police abuse
- End life sentences and mandatory minimum sentences
- Develop a "time-bound plan to close all federal prisons and immigration detention centers"
- Decriminalize and retroactively expunge both state and federal drug offenses
Section 2: Community safety
- Offer a 50 percent federal match for projected savings when states and/or local jurisdictions close detention facilities, including jails
- End cooperation with immigration authorities
- Ban "pretextual" police stops and searches, even where police obtain consent. It's not clear how the lawmakers would define a "pretextual" police stop
- Abolish police gang databases, as well as armed cops and metal detectors in school
- Forgive all outstanding court debt
- Tie state grants to intervention programs that involve specialists other than police responding to some 911 calls
Section 3: Allocating new money
- Create a plan to close youth detention centers
- Pilot programs for universal basic income
- Develop curricula that examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism, native genocide, and slavery
- Create tools to promote environmental justice, including by subsidizing "community" energy solutions
- Provide lifetime education for illegal immigrants and the currently incarcerated
- Ensure all communities have safe access to water
- Eliminate state laws that bar formerly incarcerated people from serving as guardian for their own children or others in their community
Section 4: Holding officials accountable
- Pass the Commission to Study Reparation Proposal for African-Americans Act and establish commissions to "design reparations" for mass incarceration to include those caught up in the War on Drugs, border and police violence and the "systemic violation of the U.S. Government’s treaty obligations to Tribal nations"
- Enfranchise all incarcerated individuals
- Guarantee private right of action for recovering damages when a federal official has committed a constitutional violation
- Allowing local and state resident voting for illegal immigrants