Massachusetts legislature moving full-speed ahead on police “reform”, leaving public out


BOSTON, MA – Massachusetts Democrats are moving lightspeed ahead in implementing police reform measures in the state, circumventing public input as they do so. Just about a week removed from the Massachusetts state senate passing police reform proposals in the middle of the night, House Democrats in the Bay State are planning to do the same thing.

According to NBC 10 in Boston, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Democrats plan on voting Wednesday on so-called “police reform” legislation, blasted through the legislature in response to the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis two months ago.

Despite the fact that no such incident has occurred in Massachusetts, Democrats in the state are following the “never let a crisis go to waste” mantra in rushing reform legislation through.

The reforms would implement things such as a system to license police officers in the state and imposing limits on the use of force, such as use of chokeholds and tear gas.

The Boston Herald is reporting however that one key piece of legislation that had been proposed in the Massachusetts state senate, the removal of qualified immunity for police officers, has been omitted from the House version. Qualified immunity would remain in place for officers who remain certified.

The bill addresses qualified immunity as follows: “No law enforcement officer shall be immune from civil liability for any conduct under the color of the law if said conduct results in decertification.”

Eliminating qualified immunity was a major point of contention between police and legislators, with police advocates and law enforcement officials saying the elimination of it would result in police leaving the field.

In speaking to the reform bill, DeLeo said in a statement:

“In keeping with our commitment to debate a bill to address structural inequalities that contribute to and are also a result of racial inequities, this bill creates a new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission that is truly independent and empowered.”

The bill, numbering 129 pages, came out of the House Committee on Ways and Means on Sunday and follows the release of the senate bill released last Tuesday, approved at 4 a.m. when nobody was watching.

Mass legislators are jumping on the police reform bandwagon as legislators try to quell the mob which has been engaged in violent protests across the country since Floyd’s death.

The bill was expected to be released on Monday after Ways and Means opened a poll of its members on Sunday night. Members had until 10 a.m. on Monday to decide whether or not to recommend the bill to the full House. There are only two weeks left in formal sessions for the year, so if the bill is to be implemented this year, it will need to be voted on before then.

The legislation would create a Commission on the Status of African Americans in order to guide legislators in developing solutions to discrimination and other issues facing the black community.

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The mission of the commission would be for lawmakers to use as a resource and a “clearinghouse” of research and information which impacts the African American community in the state.

The commission would also “ensure equal access to government services for Black residents and to address discrimination, the commission would also recommend candidates of color for positions throughout state government, including for appointments to boards and commissions,” NBC 10 said.

After Floyd’s death, the Black and Latin Legislative Caucus recommended five areas that were priorities for reform legislation.

The police standards commission was one of the priorities. Under the proposal, the commission would oversee licensing of police officers in the state and would require renewal every three years.

They would also have the authority to revoke, or decertify police officers for matters such as misconduct, including the use of excessive force, bias, conviction of a felony, witness intimidation or submission of false time sheets.

“The Caucus demanded police accountability and transparency, and this bill addresses each of our initial core demands,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield.

“This will change law enforcement institutions and begin to answer the call of civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King and Rep. John Lewis, who dedicated their lives to addressing racial equity. In addition, it starts addressing change in honor of George Floyd whose tragic death sparked a national conversation through protest and now by legislative action,” he said. 

The rush to action by the Massachusetts legislature has been roundly criticized by the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, which slammed them for their “haste” in passing the bill.

WHDH-7 said that other proposals would ban the use of facial recognition software or any other forms of biometric surveillance by a government official or agency unless it was specifically authorized by law.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles would be exempt from that proposal and could use such technology to issue a license or permit, and also could perform a search based on a law enforcement agency with a warrant.

Chokeholds would be banned, and police would be banned from firing a weapon at a fleeing vehicle. They would also face restrictions on the use of tear gas, rubber bullets or utilization of police canines to control behavior, unless there were no other options to protect the public. It also requires the use of de-escalation tactics prior to using such force.

The proposed legislation also limits the use of no-knock warrants and would guarantee citizens the right to “bias-free policing,” while also creating a duty of officers to intervene who witness misconduct by other law enforcement officials.

Other portions of the bill would limit the type of information school officials are able to share with law enforcement agencies, including matters such as immigration status, religion, ethnicity, neighborhood of residence or suspected gang affiliations unless related to a specific incidents.

Some legislators were concerned about the restriction on sharing gang information, believing it would give “safe harbor” to gang members in schools, however supporters of that proposal said, “students need to be able to attend school without fear of being judged.”

Apparently this is even true for gang members.

Leaders of the House had opened the floor to written testimony, with over 1,000 responses last week, a majority being from police officers, their family members and advocates, who sharply criticized the Senate’s attempt to gut qualified immunity, which many claimed protects officers from frivolous lawsuits.

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