Senate OKs po­lice re­form

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The Senate over­came a dif­fi­cult roll­out and sev­eral false starts to pass a far­reach­ing re­form of polic­ing in Mas­sachusetts on Tues­day that would ban choke­holds, limit the use of tear gas, li­cense all law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and train them in the his­tory of racism.

The vote in the up­per cham­ber now shifts the fo­cus of the de­bate over racism and polic­ing to the House with just weeks left to fi­nal­ize a bill that has vaulted to the top of the Legislatur­e’s end-of-ses­sion agenda.

The Senate bill, which was de­vel­oped af­ter weeks of pub­lic protest around the coun­try in re­sponse to the po­lice killing of Ge­orge Floyd in Min­neapo­lis, would im­pose a new level of over­sight on po­lice that has been pro­posed for years on Bea­con Hill, but has failed to gain trac­tion un­til now.

It would also con­tro­ver­sially scale back a le­gal pro­tec­tion for po­lice and other pub­lic em­ploy­ees that cur­rently shields them from civil law­suits un­less there was a clearly es­tab­lished vi­o­la­tion of law. Demo­cratic lead­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren and U. S. Rep. Ayanna Press­ley, weighed in to sup­port the ef­fort of Senate lead­ers to limit qual­i­fied im­mu­nity, while the state’s largest po­lice union sin­gled out that pro­vi­sion as one that would leave po­lice of­fi­cers se­cond-guess­ing them­selves on the job.

The Senate passed the bill 30-7 just af­ter 4 a.m. on Tues­day af­ter a long day of

de­bate and an overnight ses­sion that spanned more than 17 hours. Vot­ing against the bill were Demo­cratic Sens. Nick Collins of Boston, Anne Gobi of Spencer, Michael Rush of Boston, John Velis of West­field and Michael Moore of Mill­bury. They were joined in opposition by Repub­li­can Sens. Ryan Fattman of Sut­ton and Dean Tran of Fitch­burg.

Senate Mi­nor­ity Lead­ers Bruce Tarr, Sen. Pa­trick O’Con­nor, a Wey­mouth Repub­li­can, and Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Demo­crat, voted present.

Some sen­a­tors of­fered sharp crit­i­cism of the process used to de­velop the bill, while oth­ers en­gaged in a spir­ited back-and-forth over the le­gal prin­ci­ples of qual­i­fied im­mu­nity and the need the act “ur­gently” to pro­tect Black and other mi­nor­ity res­i­dents from dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“No one is say­ing that we don’t sup­port our cops,” said Sen. Cindy Fried­man, re­spond­ing to crit­ics who said the bill sought to pun­ish po­lice. But she pleaded with her fel­low sen­a­tors to show the same level of con­cern for ev­ery­one “shot, beaten or kicked” by po­lice be­cause of the color of their skin.

The thrust of the bill is to cre­ate a new in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion --the Po­lice Of­fi­cer Stan­dards and Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Com­mit­tee - that would cer­tify all law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and give the in­de­pen­dent agency the power to re­new, re­voke or oth­er­wise mod­ify their li­censes.

The new com­mit­tee could also con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing the ex­ces­sive use of force. Po­lice would need to be re­cer­ti­fied ev­ery three years, and the state would main­tain a search­able data­base for po­lice de­part­ments hir­ing new of­fi­cers to re­view an ap­pli­cant’s his­tory.

The Mas­sachusetts Coali­tion of Po­lice, which rep­re­sents 4,300 of­fi­cers in 157 com­mu­ni­ties, sup­ported the new li­cens­ing re­quire­ments, but raised ob­jec­tions to how quickly the bill was pushed through without a pub­lic hear­ing. Other groups rep­re­sent­ing mi­nor­ity law en­force­ment of­fi­cers said they were ex­cluded from the devel­op­ment of the bill.

“Not only am I a po­lice of­fi­cer, I am a black man and I am prob­a­bly bet­ter able to speak to con­cerns of peo­ple of color than Sen­a­tor ( Wil­liam) Browns­berger,” said Eddy Chrispin, pres­i­dent of Mas­sachusetts As­so­ci­a­tion of Mi­nor­ity Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers.

The po­lice union and other law en­force­ment groups called on the Senate to sus­pend its de­bate un­til a pub­lic hear­ing could be held, but that did not slow down law­mak­ers who con­tin­ued to work their way through the dozens of amend­ments af­ter days of set­backs.

De­spite lit­tle dis­agree­ment over many of the core el­e­ments of the bill, the is­sue of qual­i­fied im­mu­nity for po­lice be­came one of the cen­tral points of con­tention.

Senate lead­ers pro­posed new lim­its on qual­i­fied im­mu­nity, which if ap­proved would make Mas­sachusetts the se­cond state af­ter Colorado to in­crease the ex­po­sure of po­lice of­fi­cers to civil law­suits to en­sure they can be held ac­count­able for their ac­tion on duty.

A Suf­folk Univer­sity poll in late June con­ducted for WGBH News, the News Ser­vice and other out­lets found that 75% of Mas­sachusetts res­i­dents think peo­ple should be able to sue po­lice of­fi­cers in­di­vid­u­ally for mis­con­duct, com­pared to just 18.2% who said they shouldn’t be able to sue.

Only 5.4% of peo­ple said they were un­de­cided, ac­cord­ing to the poll.

Sen. Browns­berger, a Bel­mont Demo­crat, told mem­bers that the pro­posed change would pre­vent cases where no clear vi­o­la­tion of state law oc­curs from be­ing thrown out of court based on qual­i­fied im­mu­nity.

In­stead, it would al­low for law­suits to pro­ceed if a po­lice of­fi­cer should have rea­son­ably known their be­hav­ior vi­o­lated some­one’s civil rights, but it does not stop mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties from in­dem­ni­fy­ing po­lice or other pub­lic of­fi­cials, thereby as­sum­ing the fi­nan­cial risk.

Sev­eral sen­a­tors, in­clud­ing Sens. John Keenan and Marc Pacheco, said they still found the is­sue “con­fus­ing,” and not worth risk­ing un­in­tended con­se­quences.

“I know I owe them some­thing more than, ‘I don’t know,’“Keenan said about what he would tell his con­stituents.

Op­po­nents tried to rally be­hind a Sen. John Velis amend­ment that would have cre­ated a spe­cial com­mis­sion to study and make rec­om­men­da­tions on qual­i­fied im­mu­nity within 180 days, but that failed 1624 This leg­is­la­tion does not elim­i­nate qual­i­fied im­mu­nity, it re­bal­ances it,” said Sen. Jo Comer­ford.

The fi­nal qual­i­fied im­mu­nity re­form was ap­proved on a 26-14 vote.

In the course of de­bate, Sen. Eric Lesser and Browns­berger both read from the re­cent Justice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion doc­u­mented alarm­ing in­stances of po­lice mis­con­duct within the Spring­field Po­lice De­part­ment’s nar­cotic unit to re­mind their col­leagues that Mas­sachusetts is not im­mune from po­lice mis­con­duct.

‘A prac­ti­cal­ity’

“This re­port makes clear that se­ri­ous re­forms are not only es­sen­tial, they are ur­gent,” Lesser said. “Vi­o­la­tions are hap­pen­ing in our midst, in our com­mon­wealth. There is prac­ti­cally a re­quest by the Bill Barr Justice De­part­ment to to ad­dress these is­sues. We must act.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, in a state­ment early Mon­day evening, said he hoped to have a vir­tual hear­ing on the Senate bill this week. In a de­par­ture from the typ­i­cal com­mit­tee process, the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee and mem­bers of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will jointly so­licit feed­back from law­mak­ers and other in­ter­ested par­ties.

DeLeo said the un­usual process was the re­sult of the limited amount of time left in the for­mal leg­isla­tive year, which is sched­uled to end on July 31. The speaker’s em­pha­sis on so­lic­it­ing pub­lic feed­back drew a clear con­trast with the Senate’s process that had been crit­i­cized for days lead­ing up to Mon­day’s vote.

“De­spite a changed timetable, House lead­er­ship re­mains com­mit­ted to work­ing with the Black and Latino Leg­isla­tive Cau­cus and House col­leagues to take de­ci­sive ac­tion through om­nibus leg­is­la­tion. We look for­ward to re­view­ing the Senate’s en­grossed bill and the work ahead,” DeLeo said.

That the de­bate took place at all on Mon­day was a break­through for the Senate.

Sen. Ryan Fattman, a Sut­ton Repub­li­can, had post­poned con­sid­er­a­tion of the bill dur­ing three con­sec­u­tive ses­sions, in­clud­ing a rare Satur­day ses­sion, to give sen­a­tors more time to re­view the bill.

While some sen­a­tors said they still felt rushed given the lack of a pub­lic hear­ing, Fattman and other crit­ics of the bill al­lowed the de­bate to pro­ceed.

Tran kicked off the Senate’s de­bate by de­liv­er­ing a scathing in­dict­ment of the process used to de­velop the bill, which he said was crafted by Demo­cratic lead­ers without in­put from the pub­lic or key in­ter­est groups, in­clud­ing mi­nor­ity law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

The Fitch­burg Repub­li­can, who is Viet­namese, said he has ex­pe­ri­enced “the kind of ha­tred and dis­crim­i­na­tion that one can only imag­ine or ex­pe­ri­ence in their night­mares.” He called the bill “ill con­ceived and po­lit­i­cally driven” and asked his mostly white col­leagues, “What do you know about racial in­jus­tice and in­equal­ity?”

“The bill’s main goal and ob­jec­tive is to at­tack and dis­credit law en­force­ment,” Tran said.

But he wasn’t the only one to ex­press con­cerns. Taun­ton Demo­crat Sen. Marc Pacheco stood up for Fattman and his right to use of par­lia­men­tary tac­tics to de­lay de­bate if he felt un­com­fort­able pro­ceed­ing.

And while Pacheco said he agreed with 80% to 90% of what was in the bill, he and oth­ers raised con­cerns that changes to qual­i­fied im­mu­nity and lim­its on dis­ci­plinary ap­peals would cir­cum­vent the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process and un­der­mine a la­bor move­ment that had done and much other to pro­tect mi­nor­ity the .“work­ers. rights of Black

“So it’s quar­ter past two in the morn­ing and this is when we chose to take away col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights. I don’t think I want to do that. No way,” Pacheco said, ar­gu­ing in fa­vor of Sen. Nick Collins amend­ment to re­store some ap­peal op­tions. It failed 16-24.

Pacheco also wor­ried that the re­stric­tions the bill would put on qual­i­fied im­mu­nity would ap­ply to all pub­lic of­fi­cials, not just po­lice, ex­pos­ing nurses, fire­fight­ers and other pub­lic of­fi­cials to ex­pen­sive and “friv­o­lous” law­suits, and adding to the le­gal costs for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Tarr said the Senate might have done bet­ter to fo­cus on com­mon in­ter­ests, like po­lice li­cens­ing.

“If we can fo­cus on what unites us rather than di­vides us, we can move for­ward in the next 18 days and get a bill to gov­er­nor’s desk that he will sign,” Tarr said.

Baker last month filed his own leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a sys­tem for li­cens­ing po­lice and hold­ing them ac­count­able to a set of pro­fes­sional stan­dards, but that bill is be­fore the Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Safety and has not yet had a pub­lic hear­ing.

The de­bate did yield some changes to the bill, in­clud­ing a clar­i­fi­ca­tion filed by Tarr to make it clear that only law en­force­ment should have a duty to in­ter­vene if they wit­ness po­lice mis­con­duct, not all by­standers.

Senate Pres­i­dent Emerita Har­ri­ette Chan­dler suc­cess­fully amended the bill to ask the new stan­dards com­mit­tee to cre­ate rules for po­lice to re­spond to large gath­er­ings and protests, with an em­pha­sis on deesca­la­tion and min­i­mal use of force.

And a Sen. Joan Lovely plan would re­quire po­lice de­part­ments to re­port pur­chases of mil­i­tary­grade equip­ment to the House and Senate for in­for­ma­tional pur­poses.

Sen. Pa­tri­cia Jehlen’s amend­ment block­ing schools from sharing with law en­force­ment any in­for­ma­tion about a stu­dent’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, na­tion of ori­gin, eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion and known or sus­pected gang af­fil­i­a­tions passed on a 27-12 vote.

Jehlen said it was intended to pre­vent stu­dents from be­ing pro­filed. Black and Lat­inx stu­dents are more likely to be sus­pected of hav­ing gang in­volve­ment, she said, and that has been shown to have con­se­quences in other pro­ceed­ings, such as de­por­ta­tion hear­ings.

Jehlen and sup­port­ers said the amend­ment would not ap­ply if an in­ci­dent oc­curred or if there was an im­mi­nent threat, but Sen. James Welch said he wor­ried the it would al­low gangs to flour­ish in schools.


A clock on the cor­ri­dor wall dis­played the time — 4:20 a.m. — while Senate Pres­i­dent Karen Spilka spoke to re­porters out­side the Senate Cham­ber early Tues­day morn­ing, along­side Sen. Wil­liam Browns­berger, af­ter the branch passed a wide-rang­ing po­lice re­form bill dur­ing a marathon 16-hour ses­sion

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