Senate lawmakers on Beacon Hill deliberated police reform legislation Thursday that, as one Massachusetts senator says, aims to fight racism and reduce police misconduct.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz says the bill would shift from force and punishment to de-escalation and helping. The bill would prevent officers from using tear gas or chemical weapons, unless in certain situations.
It would also ban the use of chokeholds.
The legislation would allow school districts to decide if they want officers in their schools and would also create a certification, as well as decertification, process for officers.
Senate leaders say the bill would also limit qualified immunity so an officer could be liable in civil cases if an officer uses excessive force. The bill includes reforms from Gov. Charlie Baker.
With most senators participating remotely, Senate deliberations on the sweeping police reform bill got underway just after 2 p.m. with introductory speeches as Chang-Diaz listed names of Black residents killed by police and racial violence and talked about the positive change that the bill, if approved, could bring to Massachusetts.
Chang-Diaz, the chamber's lone member of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, cited the "righteous anger" shared over the last six weeks by protesters against police brutality and said the omnibus reform bill, which bans some policing and use of force tactics and emphasizes de-escalation instead, is "one necessary step on a long hard road."
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Sen. Cindy Creem said the bill makes important first steps but lawmakers need to continue to alter policies and budgets to reflect inequities in housing, health care, the environment and education - areas where she said problems "embedded in our culture" must be addressed.
The session got off to a slow start, and at one point broke for a recess during which top Senate Democrats visited Minority Leader Bruce Tarr's office.
Both the house speaker and Senate president have indicated that they want to pass police reform legislation before the end of the current legislative session, which is coming up at the end of the month.