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14 state and local bills currently being considered that address police reform and systemic racism

June 4, 2020, 10:05 PM UTC

As nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill enter their 10th night, calls to institute real political change are spreading. 

Immediate action in Congress, however, is incredibly unlikely.

The House remains out of session until the end of June, and any police reform plans will likely be blocked by a Republican-controlled Senate. On a local level, calls to defund police departments are also becoming common, and proposals are being drafted, but budget fights are complicated and lengthy.

There are, however, already a number of bills targeted at systemic racism and police reform in local legislatures that could theoretically be passed immediately.

New York State: The Safer NY Act

The Safer NY Act is a package of five bills already in the New York state legislature which aim to increase accountability and transparency in policing. Each part of the bill has the ability to pass separately, and some have passed through the New York State Assembly four years in a row before being blocked by the state senate. The package of acts have been endorsed by New York’s NAACP chapter and the New York Civil Liberties Union. 

The series of bills include:

The Police STAT (Statistics and Transparency) Act: This policy was proposed after unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and was based on the recommendations of President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing task force. It would require police departments around the state to record and report geographic and demographic data for people apprehended for low-level offenses as well as for anyone who dies in police custody. The data would lead to a better understanding of racial disparities when policing.

Repeal of Section 50-a: 50-a exempts police officers, firefighters, and correction officers in New York state from the release of “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion.”

That means that first responders’ records are “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” unless mandated by court order.

The law dates back to the 1970s and essentially prevents defendants and people suing the police from obtaining information about the history of a police officer.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has voiced his support for the repeal and said he would sign any legislation that comes to his desk. 

Codifying Executive Order 147: Executive order 147 gives the New York state attorney general jurisdiction as special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers and would allow the special prosecutor to review cases where “the civilian was armed and dangerous at the time of his or her death.”

This would turn the executive order into state law. 

The Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act: This would legalize marijuana in New York state. Regulation around the prohibition of marijuana has disproportionately impacted communities of color in the state.

A study by the New York Times found that black people in New York City were arrested for low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people. In Manhattan, black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.

Reduce unnecessary arrests for noncriminal offenses: This legislation would help prevent arrests for violations which are categorized as minor, noncriminal, and ticketable offenses. These types of arrests also disproportionately impact communities of color. 

Louisville: Breonna’s Law  

On Wednesday, the Louisville Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee voted to pass a law that would require all police officers to wear body cameras while executing no-knock warrants. The vote will now go to the full council. If approved, no-knock warrants would also be issued only for investigations involving murder, hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism, and human trafficking.

The bill is named after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black EMT who was killed by police during a no-knock raid on her apartment as part of a drug investigation. Police were investigating two people accused of selling drugs, neither of whom were her. They entered her home in March while she slept. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he thought he was being robbed and fired a gunshot, which hit a police officer in the leg. Police then shot Taylor at least eight times. 

The police say they knocked on the door and announced themselves, but neighbors say they did neither. They were not wearing body cameras. 

Colorado: Senate Bill 217 (The Police Integrity Transparency and Accountability Act)

On Wednesday, Democratic state lawmakers in Colorado introduced legislation that would collect demographic and racial profiling data, make it easier for people to file lawsuits against the police, require police to wear body cameras and release footage, prevent the transfer of problematic police officers to different departments, and would require officers to intervene if they see one of their coworkers using “unreasonable force” against a member of the public. If officers do not intervene they face criminal prosecution. 

The bill has been endorsed by the ACLU.

Massachusetts: Commission on Structural Racism 

Massachusetts House Rep. Russell Holmes has penned three bills to address issues of systematic injustice and racism in the police force, all of which were endorsed by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus this week. 

The first would allow for the decertification of police officers who are found guilty of misconduct and abuse; the second would create diversity guidelines across all state agencies; and the third would create an independent commission to investigate institutional racism in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. 

Illinois: HB 4999, HB 3926, and SB 3449 

During the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference’s emergency forum this week, three Illinois state legislators, Reps. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th) and Kam Buckner (D-26th), and state Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), highlighted legislation already in play in Illinois that would increase police accountability. They asked House speaker Mike Madigan and senate president Don Harmon to open an emergency legislative session to pass them. 

HB 4999: Sitting in the House Personnel and Pensions Committee, this bill would make police officers convicted of a felony ineligible for their pensions. 

HB 3926: Currently sitting in the Illinois House Judiciary-Criminal Committee, this act would require a special prosecutor for any law-enforcement related death in the state. 

SB 3449: This would create the Community Emergency Services and Support Act to ensure that those who call 911 in mental distress would be connected with professionals who are trained in crisis control and deescalation. Peters said the bill was created in response to the shooting of University of Chicago student Charles Thomas while he was in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Vermont: Use of force legislation 

H.808 would change the legal standard for deadly use of force by a police officer. Modeled off of legislation that passed in California last year, it would allow officers to use deadly force only when “necessary” or when no other options exist. It would also establish a statewide standard as opposed to case law, which is what is currently used. The current Vermont standard relies on what a “reasonable person” would do in a situation. 

“In determining whether deadly force is necessary,” the legislation says, “officers shall evaluate each situation in light of the particular circumstances of each case and shall use other available resources and techniques if reasonably safe and feasible to an objectively reasonable officer.” The bill is currently stalled in the Vermont House Government Operations Committee. When asked if he would support the bill this week, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said that he did not know much about it.

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