U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil says at least 85 percent of the police reform measures in competing Senate and House bills are “broadly supported” by lawmakers from both parties.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to set partisanship aside and be able to actually move forward in support of improving law enforcement,” the Janesville Republican said Monday during a WisPolitics.com virtual luncheon.
But Steil said he opposed full elimination of no-knock warrants, a measure included in the Dem House bill but not in the GOP-authored legislation the Senate is set to consider this week. He called an outright ban on no-knock warrants “a step too fast, too far.”
“Some jurisdictions, in my conversations with the law enforcement community, actually I think have a really good checks and balance system as to when they’re absolutely necessary,” Steil said. “Other jurisdictions may not be following such a regimented regime that we have in particular here in Wisconsin, I think we do a very good job at that.
“But I think the step too far might be this House version where it’s an outright ban out of the gates.”
Steil added he wasn’t aware of any research done at the federal level on no-knock warrants and said he was concerned about eliminating the practice without studying its effectiveness.
“There are instances where the risk to officers’ lives is very significant and removing that tool without any form of study or analysis, I think is a bit reactionary and may put officers’ lives at risk,” he said.
Steil also knocked calls to defund police. But the Janesville Republican, when quizzed about diverting law enforcement resources, said there was “a broader societal conversation” about addressing mental health issues.
Still, Steil said he backed a measure to ban the use of chokeholds, noting that had already been “codified in the rules” in most jurisdictions in the state. He also said he was optimistic “minor differences” between the House and Senate bills could be ironed out “reasonably quickly” by a conference committee.
Steil also said it was time for the federal government to “shift from the sledgehammer and move to the scalpel” in providing relief from the COVID-19 pandemic.
He largely praised the federal response to coronavirus, comparing it to “building the ship as we paddle out to sea.”
“There’s a lot of duct tape on this,” he said. “This isn’t a well-built machine, but it is definitely floating and so you gotta take pride that we’re keeping things above water.”
Moving forward, Steil said he believes it’s time to move away from the broad-based “sledgehammer approach” taken by Congress in passing the roughly $2 trillion CARES Act.
“We came in with a flood of liquidity from Washington to keep businesses afloat, to keep people’s jobs intact, to make sure that we were providing people access to unemployment insurance,” he said. “Now, we need to shift from that phase into a more nuanced approach to make sure that we’re getting relief to where it’s required.”
Steil also said the “scalpel” approach should encompass providing personal protective equipment to frontline healthcare workers and “driving forward with research” with the goal of developing a vaccine and eventually a cure.
He added it was “significantly premature” for the federal government to distribute more money to state and local governments “before we analyze how the funds that have been allocated” are being spent.