House Version Of Police Reform Bill Unveiled On Beacon Hill

(Mario Jarjour/WBZ NewsRadio)

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Massachusetts House leaders have unveiled their expansive police reform legislation that would overhaul police departments across the state. The House is formally introducing the bill Monday, a week after the Senate passed its own version of the bill.

The over 120-page document passed the House Ways and Means Committee late Sunday night, into Monday morning.

The sweeping legislation bans chokeholds, limits the use of facial recognition technology by public agencies unless specifically specified by law, and overhauls the way that officers are trained, creating a new entity to certify police.

The members of the seven-person Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission would be appointed by the governor and attorney general. The bill also saves seats for the preferred picks of law enforcement unions.

The commission would serve as the "primary civil enforcement agency" in the state and have the power to revoke police certifications for “any cause that the commission deems reasonable.” Officers who are de-certified would loose certain legal protections, including qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil rights lawsuits.

An officer could loose his immunity for “any conduct under color of law that violates a person’s right to bias-free professional policing” that also results in his or her de-certification.The bill otherwise leaves qualified immunity, which has been a highly contentious and controversial topic, largely intact.

All of this comes months after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, sparking demonstrations world-wide and putting pressure on political leader to address what many perceive to be systemic racism in law enforcement, and other parts of society.

The bill would also create a new permanent Commission on the Status of African Americans, a "clearinghouse" of research and information on issues impacting the black community in Massachusetts, that the commission would use to develop policy solutions.

The legislation is being introduced less than two weeks before the end of the formal legislative session, creating a tight time-frame for a hugely impactful law to be debated, amended and passed.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and top Democrats say they plan to seek a vote Wednesday.

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