Police Reform Bill Passes Legislature, Sparking Bipartisan Frustration From Opponents

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/12/02/police-reform-bill-passes-legislature-sparking-bipartisan-frustration-from-opponents/

With bipartisan opposition, both chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature passed police reform bills on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill (S.2963) passed 28-12 in the state Senate and 92-67 in the state House of Representatives. Every Republican in both chambers voted against the bill. The Senate bill passed with a veto-proof majority, but the House majority is far short of the necessary two-thirds. That gives Governor Charlie Baker considerable negotiating power if he disagrees with aspects of it.

The bill in question, titled “An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth,” would make several changes to the way law enforcement operates in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

It would restrict the use of no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds, create a civilian-led commission on police accountability, eliminate qualified immunity for those who have “violated a person’s right to bias-free professional policing,” and prevent school officials from giving information about students to law enforcement agencies.

Supporters say the bill is a step in the right direction towards addressing what they see as racism in policing, holding police officers accountable for their misdeeds, and limiting police brutality.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Dorchester) supports the bill, but she argues that it does not go far enough.

“In the pursuit of progress, we must also be clear about where this legislation falls short. For far too long, the doctrine of qualified immunity has protected the very people charged with enforcing the law from any consequence for breaking it, allowing police officers to use their badge as a shield from accountability,” Pressley said in a written statement. “The legislation does not go far enough to address this systemic problem. By merely creating a commission to study the impact of qualified immunity in the Commonwealth, and limiting immunity only for decertified officers, rather than ending the harmful doctrine outright, Massachusetts has missed an opportunity to lead by ensuring that those responsible for upholding the law are subject to it too.”

Opponents in the legislature on both sides of the aisle expressed dismay with the process used to pass this bill.

That includes state Representative Patrick Kearney (D-Scituate), who has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Coalition of Police. He voted against the bill and voiced his frustration with it in the morning of Tuesday, December 1 — hours before the final vote.

“Being sent a 129 page bill less than 24hrs before we are expected to take a vote ~ after it’s been stuck in committee for 4 months ~ is emblematic of why people are distrustful of Beacon Hill. Bad look for ‘policy makers,’ ” Kearney wrote in a Facebook post.

Kearney also voted against the July version of the bill, expressing similar concerns at the time. He said the House only had two days to read, file amendments, and vote on a 123-page bill and that the issue “is too important for the usual rushed process.”

The process is something outgoing state Senator Dean Tran (R-Fitchburg) also pointed out — as well as some substantive arguments against the bill.

Here is what he wrote on Facebook.


The final bill, 129 pages, came out of the conference committee, released to the public on 11/30 at 5pm, and the Senate members were forced to vote on it last night, the day after. Although it passed, the bi-partisan opposition grew to 28-12.
Opposing viewpoints include:
1.  Negotiations lacked main stakeholders and no transparency. The 129-page bill was rushed through, again.
2.  Removal of the use of facial recognition which has assisted in providing public safety.
3.  Includes “Emergency Medical Technician” under a broad definition of “law enforcement officer.”
4.  The composition of the boards and commissions has minimal representation from the profession they oversee.
5.  Unclear of the impact of the proposed “study” of civil service has on collective bargaining rights and protections.
6.  Changes to qualified immunity may have an effect on due process and overall impacts on other public employees such as Firefighters, EMT’s, and Paramedics.
Using situations in other states to legislate in this state is a bad public policy that could result in unintended consequences.
Fellow Republican state Representative David DeCoste of Norwell ripped the bill in a written statement on Facebook:
Senate Bill 2963 calls for the establishment of a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to set certification standards and decertify officers that violate these standards,” the statement reads, in part. “Unlike other professional licensing boards in Massachusetts, the new POST Commission would be comprised primarily of individuals working outside the profession it will be responsible for overseeing. The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association has warned that a commission made up mostly of individuals with little or no law enforcement background will likely lead to numerous due process challenges.
Incredibly, Senate Bill 2963 eliminates the requirement that schools employ school resource officers and would significantly curtail the ability of schools to share certain information with local police departments. The lack of information-sharing would severely impair law enforcement’s ability to monitor drug dealing and youth gang activity in our schools. There are also provisions in this legislation that seek to undermine hiring preferences for veterans through changes to the Massachusetts Civil Service System.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he did not have enough information to say whether or not he supported the bill.

“I’m glad the Legislature moved forward on this,” Baker said during a coronavirus press conference Tuesday, December 1. “I’m glad that this was something that was part of what they considered to be important to get done before the end of the session. But I can’t speak to the specifics of this until we have a chance to review it.”