A top House Republican said Tuesday that a series of criminal justice reform bills that have stalled in the House could help stem the gun violence epidemic in many U.S. communities.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who is co-chairing the Policing Strategies bipartisan working group, said after a roundtable discussion in Detroit with community leaders and police officials that criminal justice reform legislation would provide new strategies for police, who have been criticized for a wave of police shootings of black men.
"We would like to see those move through the Congress," said Goodlatte, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "We think they would help promote a better relationship between police and communities that needs to be happening everywhere in America."
The roundtable was not open to the press but lawmakers addressed the media after the event. Goodlatte said the working group has been invited to speak in other cities but has not made plans yet for the next stop.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who is a member of the working group and a top lawmaker on the Judiciary panel, told reporters in Detroit that she believes more money is needed to help communities and train police officers, but said Democrats planned to work with the GOP to help pass criminal justice reform legislation.
"We are not steamrollers," Jackson Lee said. "We are going to be collaborative."
House Republican leaders formed the working group following a series of police shootings of black men that provoked angry demonstrations in several cities this spring and summer. Several police officers were also killed in a string of targeted shootings.
Jackson Lee, a former judge, said communities need to address both safety issues and the treatment of blacks by law enforcement.
"We need to open our hearts and minds to accept police officers who are diverse but also this underlying implicit racism that casts African Americans in a certain light," she said. "We need a dialogue about it."
Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have been collaborating on criminal justice reform legislation that would overhaul sentencing and policing guidelines, help transition ex-convicts back into the community, enhance services for the mentally ill, and enhance law enforcement training.
The legislation has been stalled due in part to differences between House and Senate versions, and it's not clear if it will receive a vote in Congress this year, although bipartisan support and the backing of President Obama could give it momentum.
Goodlatte said the legislation could be packaged as separate bills or as one bill that "could very well pass the House of Representatives."
"These ought to be addressed to show the American people the Congress is listening to them," he added.
The task force is meeting to determine how the federal government can help stem the violence, but Goodlatte told reporters after the roundtable that the problem must be solved mostly by communities.
"This issue primarily needs to be addressed at the local level," Goodlatte said. "We are in the process of holding a series of private roundtables to determine what can be done at the federal level."