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Congress set to debate qualified immunity as part of police reform

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – As Congress tries to come up with a plan for police reform that each side is happy with, the issue of qualified immunity could be a major hurdle.

Qualified immunity is the legal doctrine that could upend Congress’ chance to pass police reform.

“Qualified immunity allows courts to dismiss cases against officer who have committed unnecessary acts of force,” said former defense attorney Jesse Kelley.

Kelly, a legal expert with R Street Institute, said qualified immunity, in most cases, protects a government and its employees from civil lawsuits.

“Some believe that qualified immunity is necessary for police officers to be able to do their jobs,” Kelley said.

“There should be a price to be paid for wrongdoing,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il).

Durbin and other Democrats said victims should be able to sue local governments when police officers violate civil rights.

“Because it’s a lesson learned to that county when it comes to the conduct and training and hiring of individuals,” he said.

Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun agrees, to a point.

“I think it’s time we change it,” he said. “Not eliminate it, but modify it.”

Braun will introduce legislation next week to keep some qualified immunity in place, “but it would also enable individuals that have some horrific example of what should not be protected, it would enable that type of repercussion.”

He believes there’s a chance to find some middle ground on the issue.

“There are some Democrats, I think, will be interested in a modified version, and there are some Republicans I’m hoping that will come along,” Braun said.

The House and Senate are set to begin debating the issue next week.

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