Yesterday, the Massachusetts House launched their own version of a police “reform” bill (https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H4860).
The House bill is, overall, far weaker than the Senate bill. We have till 1pm tomorrow to persuade House members to submit amendments. We want to see the Senate language on qualified immunity, school resource officers, police stops, and military equipment approvals, in the House bill. We like the House’s face surveillance language better than the Senate’s. We don’t want, or need, yet more blue-ribbon commissions to consider at length What, If Anything, To Do. It’s quite clear what the problem is:
The police spy on, shoot and hurt people without probable cause, often for racist reasons. People who do that shouldn’t be police, and people it gets done to, should get to sue the people who did it to them.
There’s not much time. You can find your House Rep’s phone number at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Please call this morning!
Here’s a quick summary of the key differences:
|COMPARISON OF REFORM BILLS||S2800||H4860|
|Police rape of residents outlawed?||Yes||Yes|
|Qualified immunity limited?||Yes||No|
|School info sharing with “gang” database limited?||Yes||Yes|
|Government use of face surveillance banned?||Temporary, plus RMV||Permanent, minus RMV|
|Local discretion on whether to have police in schools?||Yes||No|
|Local elected official approval process for military equipment acquisition by police?||Yes||No|
|Chokeholds outlawed if intent or result of unconsciousness or death?||Yes||Yes|
|No-knock warrants limited?||Yes||Yes|
|Data collection on police traffic and pedestrian stops to prevent profiling?||Yes||No|
In other words, the House bill has stronger provisions on face surveillance, but strips key language from the Senate version on qualified immunity, school resource officers, military equipment for police, and data collection on traffic stops. And as a last slap in the face to the Black community in Massachusetts, the House bill takes funds designated for securing racial equity in cannabis dispensary licenses, and redirected them to yet more police training.
At Digital Fourth, we would support a bill stronger than the Senate bill. Our optimal bill here would outlaw chokeholds, tear gas, other chemical irritants, the use of dogs at protests, and police rape; end qualified immunity, end information sharing of schools with the police and ICE, ban school resource officers, end the 1033 military equipment acquisition program, end no-knock warrants, end civil asset forfeitures, reverse the delays introduced by amendment in the Senate to the decertification process, and still collect data on all police stops.
The Senate bill at least represented progress, especially with the House provisions on face surveillance added. Therefore, we support all amendments adding the Senate language back in, excepting those relating to face surveillance. But the House bill – again, excepting the face surveillance provisions – is a betrayal of everyone genuinely concerned for equal justice, and deserves to wither in the fire.This is what happens now.
You have till 1pm tomorrow to persuade your House member to submit or endorse amendments to the House bill. Then, House leadership will allow debate, likely on Tuesday or Wednesday, and vote on them and the bill. Then, the House and Senate will create a conference committee to try to agree common language. As you can see above, there are a lot of key differences. If the conference agrees on language, the bill goes back to both bodies for a vote, and then, if passed, it goes to the Governor’s desk. If the bill is not signed by the end of the session, which is currently scheduled for July 31, then the bill dies for this session, and would be reintroduced when the new session begins in January.
Good luck, and may the Fourth be with you!