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Legislative Watch: Protests Trigger Police Reform Efforts

To date, dozens of bills and resolutions have been introduced by legislators to address shortcomings with police training, qualified immunity and racial profiling, including the use of facial recognition technology.

Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo addressed issues concerning police reform on June 10, 2020 in Minneapolis. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer galvanized long-simmering resentments about racial profiling and the use of excessive force by law enforcement, leading to protests in scores of cities in the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.

The demands for change have ranged from reform of policing practices to defunding, dismantling and even abolishing law enforcement agencies. On June 7 the Minneapolis City Council, at the heart of a global storm of outrage, concluded that its police department was “beyond reform” and should be dismantled.

To date, there’s been no conversation at the federal level regarding strategies that could help states respond to weeks of civil unrest. The first protests took place in late May and soon after, state legislators began to propose measures to help resolve inequities and protect citizens, the first signs of a wave that will inevitably grow. Here's a sampling of legislative action:

Colorado SB20-217, Enhancing Law Enforcement Integrity, creates a new use of force standard, with specific guidelines for protests and demonstrations. It outlaws chokeholds and requires an officer to intervene if a colleague is using unlawful physical force, with a penalty of decertification for failing to do so. The bill would require all local law enforcement agencies and the state patrol to issue body cameras to officers, to be activated during interactions with the public. Among other provisions, it requires a police officer to have a legal basis for making contact with a member of the public.

HB51, a Louisiana bill, addresses the concept of “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials against liability for actions taken in their official capacity. It would establish that “no element of qualified immunity or any other kind of immunity” can be claimed by law enforcement officers as a defense in wrongful death or physical injury cases. HR13 would establish a group to study policing and law enforcement systems, in response to “deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.” The group would include representatives from the ACLU, the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Urban League.

SR0122, enacted in Michigan, condemns “extremist organizations” such as Antifa and Boogaloo for acts of domestic terrorism and urges Congress to “redouble its efforts” to combat them. HB5837 would require persons seeking to become licensed as law enforcement officers in the state to complete training on topics including implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, non-lethal force and support available to law enforcement officers.

Ohio SCR14 observes that the American Public Health Association identifies both racism and law enforcement violence as public health issues. It asks the governor to declare racism to be a public health crisis affecting the entire state, and to form a working group that would promote racial equality.

Nearly 30 bills related to law enforcement have been introduced in New York since the beginning of June, and the governor is expected to sign a number of them. S8495, which has passed the Senate, prohibits the use of racial profiling by police. It requires law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to prevent profiling and procedures for responding to complaints. S8514 prohibits the use of tear gas by law enforcement personnel. A10601 requires diversity and inclusion training to be incorporated in basic and pre-employment training for state and municipal police officers as well as firefighters and corrections officers.

Bills introduced in New Jersey include S2562, which establishes that an officer who “knowingly chokes another person” has engaged in the use of deadly force. A4211 imposes a moratorium on the use of facial recognition or other biometric surveillance systems. The bill was introduced on June 1, prior to IBM’s announcement that it would no longer create or sell facial recognition software due to its potential to contribute to racial profiling by police. A4248 aims to establish a task force to make recommendations about identifying and treating police and other pandemic first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Powered by Quorum. Map will update automatically as new bills are introduced.

Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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