CommonWealth Magazine
6 lawmakers named to conference committee on police reform

By Sarah Betancourt | Jul 27, 2020

Two members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus will be part of the group that will hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions of police reform legislation.

Springfield Democrat Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, who chairs the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, will be joined by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain, who is the sole member of the caucus in the Senate. The other four participants are Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont and Republican Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, along with Reps. Claire Cronin of Easton, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Timothy Whelan, a Brewster Republican who voted against the bill. The Senate bill passed 30-7, and the House bill was approved by a margin of 93-66.

The six-member conference committee negotiators have four days to get the consensus bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, although lawmakers and even the governor hinted on Monday that the ession could be extended. At a State House press conference, Baker said he wasn’t telling lawmakers what to do, but he made clear there is a lot of legislation he would like to see passed and very little time to get it all done.

When it comes to police reform, the two branches are in general agreement about eliminating the municipal police training committee – a little-known entity within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security – and replacing it with a new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission with the power to investigate misconduct claims against police officers and decertify those officers found to violate standards.

The House and Senate are not totally on the same page on who would serve on the commission and whether or not a nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreement should exist between complainants and law enforcement. They also differ on a legal tenet, known as qualified immunity, that shields public employees from civil lawsuits in cases of misconduct. The Senate bill proposes limiting qualified immunity for all public employees, while the House bill would limit immunity for police officers who are decertified for misconduct.

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