The Senate passed a sweeping reform police package hours before daylight broke this morning, ending a 5-day stalemate over changes to qualified immunity protections for police that split Democrats and generated days of protests in front of the State House.
“This begins the long, necessary work of shifting power and resources to Black communities and communities of color who have, for too long, faced criminalization and punishment instead of investment,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, following the roll-call vote of the Senate.
The 30-7 vote clocked in at 4:10 a.m. following 17 straight hours of debate on the Senate floor over key aspects of the bill that splintered progressive and moderate Democrats.
Senate President Karen Spilka said she is “proud of the Senate for listening to calls for racial justice and beginning the difficult work of reducing institutionalized violence, shifting our focus and resources to communities that have historically been negatively impacted by aggressive policing.”
The bill now moves to the House, where it faces a fresh round of review. House leaders have already committed to a “public process for soliciting feedback” later this week — something opponents of the bill say the Senate skipped. It’s likely to face backlash from law enforcement agencies who have already spoken out in opposition, particularly to changes to qualified immunity that protects police from lawsuits in connection with misconduct on the job.
“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,” they wrote in a statement.
Dubbed the Reform, Shift + Build Act, the bill creates a certification system for officers and third-party committee to oversee decertification proceedings. It bans the use of deadly and excessive force tactics like chokeholds and requires other officers to intervene when they witness their peers commit misconduct. The bill emphasizes de-escalation over punitive enforcement and allocates money to social and community programs.
A major sticking point for Republicans and moderate Democrats surrounded the bill’s bid to place limitations on when police officers can invoke a qualified immunity defense.
Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, staved off debate for three consecutive days last week with procedural maneuvers on the bill he said was simply doing too much, too fast.
Democratic Sen. Michael Moore was one of 8 from his caucus who agreed with tactics to slow down debate even as others sought to fast-track the legislation to governor’s desk before the end of the session later this month.
“Let’s not act in haste,” Moore said early Tuesday, urging slow and thoughtful debate “so we can get it right.”
Chang Diaz — the sole member of the state’s Black and Latino Caucus serving in the Senate — called on her colleagues to seize upon the “fleeting focus” on the plight on Black Americans amid a national outcry over police accountability following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police and make substantive changes.
“I submit with humility and with anguish that there’s never been a time in this country’s history when people of color seeking to claim their rights haven’t been told to wait,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said, pushing back on efforts to water down the qualified immunity language.
Sen. William Brownsberger, one of the architects of the bill, argued the changes to qualified immunity would serve justice in the only the most “egregious” of cases.
A collection of seven amendments — several of which Democrats signed onto — aimed at removing any changes to qualified immunity or creating commissions to study the issue instead failed.
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