A broad police reform bill passed by the state Senate this week after an all-night debate included provisions to license police, ban chokeholds, obligate police to intervene if they witness officer misconduct and limit the “qualified immunity” that shields police from civil lawsuits.
This is an important and very complicated bill that needs more public input before it gets a vote in the House and final Senate vote.
Police unions raised the alarm about the vote on the bill in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he hoped to hold a “virtual hearing” this week to get feedback from the public. The chairs of the House Ways and Means and Judiciary committees said they would take written testimony only until 11 a.m. today, July 17. The mixed signals about the importance of passing reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the rush to get input and move the process along show how chaotic the legislative process can be.
After today, the Legislature has two weeks to finalize a bill and get it on the governor’s desk before formal sessions end July 31. Again, this multi-layered and vital legislation needs a thorough public discussion — or at least a chance for the public to be heard — before final votes are taken.
The important elements of this package can’t be overstated. The idea of licensing police officers and renewing those licenses every three years would set a clear standard all police officers in Massachusetts would have to meet — a sign of accountability and of accomplishment all in one.
And a ban on the use of chokeholds, which already are specifically prohibited in some local departments’ use of force policies, would be a clear message to police officers and the people they serve.
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, voted present on the Senate bill, along with Republicans Bruce Tarr and Patrick O’Connor. DiZoglio said there are many facets of the bill she supported but she thinks more public input is needed before she’ll cast her vote on the final version.
This legislation needs to be vetted, revised if necessary, voted and signed this summer. It may not satisfy powerful police unions or the most vocal police reform advocates, but it should make clear where lawmakers and the governor stand on qualified immunity, police licensing and police accountability to all of us.