Reforms pushed in Texas as trial nears in George Floyd death

FILE - In this Monday, June 8, 2020, file photo, local residents and alumni of Jack Yates High School take part in a candlelight vigil to honor George Floyd, in Houston. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis Police officers on May 25. As the trial surrounding the death of Floyd begins in Minneapolis, a sweeping package of police reforms in his native Texas has scarce signs of early support within the states GOP majority. The George Floyd Act was scheduled to get its first hearing in the Texas Capitol on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

AUSTIN, Texas – Outside of George Floyd's public memorial last summer in Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott floated the possibility of a law named in honor of the longtime Houston resident that would take aim at police brutality.

But as the George Floyd Act was heard in the Texas Capitol for the first time Thursday, there were scarce early signs of GOP support for the package of sweeping police reforms introduced by Democrats, including from Abbott. The former Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd's death is set to stand trial next week.

“Above all, this bill is about ending systemic racism," said Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who is carrying the bill and is the longest-serving woman and Black person in the Texas Legislature, which she joined in 1973.

Floyd, who was Black, was laid to rest in Texas following his death in May after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in a trial that begins Monday in Minneapolis.

Members of Floyd's family testified in a hearing that also touched on other policing deaths, including Javier Ambler, a Black man who died in police custody and was heard saying on body camera video that he was having trouble breathing while being detained by sheriff's deputies near Austin.

Provisions of the bill include banning chokeholds and requiring officers to intervene if another officer is using excessive force.

Abbott has not commented publicly on the legislation.

“I think the governor's reading the tea leaves to see where the other members of the Republican caucus are,” said Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds, the vice chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Abbott privately met with Floyd's family in Houston last summer. He said at the time he was committed to working with them to “ensure we never have anything like this ever occur in the state of Texas.”

Shareeduh Tate, Floyd's cousin, said the family had been in contact with the governor since the memorial service last June though not about the bill in particular. “We have an understanding that he is committed to doing things that will bring about positive change," she said.

When it comes to law enforcement, Abbott has made clear his top priority this year is preserving funding levels for police departments, echoing Republicans who have seized on calls by some activists and progressives to “defund the police” to argue that supporters were intent on slashing police force budgets. Supporters of the movement to “defund the police” say they actually want the government to spend more on housing and education than policing.

Earlier this month in Congress, House Democrats passed the most ambitious effort in decades to overhaul policing nationwide under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Like the legislation in Texas, the bill would ban chokeholds and address so-called qualified immunity that shields law enforcement from certain lawsuits. It would also create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability.

Democrats now control both chambers of Congress, but it seems unlikely the bill could pass the Senate without substantial changes to win GOP support. In Texas, Reynolds acknowledged that changes are likely coming to their legislation in order to win bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled statehouse.

Republican Rep. James White, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, would only say he supports “constitutional policing” when asked whether he backs any elements of the bill. He quickly added that measures need to support law enforcement.

“Without law enforcement, our laws aren't worth the ink or the paper that's being used to convey them to the public," he said.

Four years ago, Abbott signed the Sandra Bland Act named after a black woman found dead in a Texas jail in 2015 following a confrontational traffic stop with a white state trooper. The compromise that reached his desk added de-escalation training and independent investigations of county jail deaths, but the end product disappointed Bland’s family, who felt it didn’t address the circumstances leading up to her death.


Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd: