Senate Panel Concurs With House Amendments to Police Reform Bills

The General Assembly made big leaps Tuesday towards reconciling a bicameral police reform package to be sent to the governor’s desk before the session adjourns sine die next Monday.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted along party lines to concur with the House’s amendments to the bills in its police reform package, hastening their path to be presented to the governor.

The Senate package, originally consisting of nine, largely bipartisan bills, was condensed to just four through House amendments:

  • Senate Bill 786, sponsored by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), would return control of the Baltimore Police Department to the city.
  • SB 600, sponsored by Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), would set forth a process to independently investigate use of force incidents that result in death and adopted portions of SB 599 to prohibit law enforcement agencies from procuring weaponized vehicles and other surplus military equipment;
  • SB 71, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), would order police departments throughout Maryland to provide body-worn cameras for on-duty officers by 2025 and adopted portions of HB 670 and SB 626 to implement a statewide use of force policy; and 
  • SB 178, sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), would alter the Maryland Public Information Act to allow certain officer misconduct records to be available for public inspection and adopted portions of HB 670 and SB 419 to regulate the execution of warrants.

SB 178, the last bill in the Senate package, passed out of the House chamber Tuesday afternoon after nearly two-and-a-half hours of debate and 10 failed attempts to amend the measure.

Republicans lobbed amendments at the legislation, many of which were rejected by the House Judiciary Committee during a committee voting session last week just before it hit the floor.

One amendment offered by Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) sought to make top law enforcement officers in each jurisdiction locally elected by members of the public.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) laughed throughout Morgan’s explanation of the amendment and the potential repercussions of turning law enforcement officers into elected officials who raise money on the campaign trail.

“I’d say this was half-baked, but that would be rude,” he said.

Morgan’s amendment failed. SB 178, or Anton’s Law, named in memory of 19-year-old Anton Black who died in police custody in 2018, passed out of the chamber on a vote of 88-46.

Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery), the bill’s House co-sponsor, had prioritized passing Anton’s Law since he began in the legislature, working closely with Carter and Black’s family to advocate for its passage over the course of several sessions.

Legislate with impacted communities in mind,” he tweeted Tuesday evening. “Why? Because those closest to the pain are closest to the solution but seldom are they closest to power. #AntonsLaw #ProtestToPolicy

Carter told Maryland Matters in a brief interview Tuesday night that she’s relieved the bill passed because Marylanders will receive a level of police transparency they’ve never seen before. But she continues to wait for the rest of the reform measures to be ironed out.

“Let me be clear: Anton’s Law is great, but I’ll be happy when all this stuff is done because, as you know, many of these bills I’ve been pushing for a very long time,” she said. “So, I’ll be happy to get to Sine Die and see that we have actually moved on police reform as we’ve claimed that we were going to do, and we should have done many, many years ago.”

While some lawmakers celebrated the passage of the legislation, others were less-than-thrilled with Tuesday’s events.

Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) made clear his frustration with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee’s willingness to accept the House amendments.

We’ve now turned what was a bipartisan, well-thought-out process to passing these completely on party lines,” he said. “Quite frankly, there wasn’t even much of a debate. I just find it striking that we’re adopting in whole-cloth whole sections of House stuff and no one can advocate or explain whole portions of it.”

Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll), a former member of Judicial Proceedings, reinforced Hough’s argument over Twitter.

That’s unbelievable,” Ready wrote. “These issues that have been crammed into the the [sic] bills are too important to NOT conference.”

Also on Tuesday, the Judicial Proceedings Committee agreed to a negotiating team to work through the House’s omnibus police reform bill, HB 670. 

After that bill was quickly pushed through the Senate last week, Clippinger made a motion Friday to reject all of the Senate’s amendments to the bill, requesting instead to convene a conference committee to iron out their discrepancies.

The Senate had not acknowledged the House’s request for a conference committee until Tuesday’s floor session when Smith, Carter and Sen. Michael A. Jackson (D-Prince George’s) were appointed to negotiate the bill. Hough was designated as an observer.

The House on Friday appointed Clippinger, Judiciary Vice Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) and Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) as conferees, with Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) in an advisory role.

During separate interviews with Maryland Matters Monday evening, Moon and House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) acknowledged that the chambers’ discrepancies with the House bill aren’t far from being reconciled. But they did note some areas that cause some delegates heartburn, including the bill’s new composition of administrative charging committees and an amended measure to allow officers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges to continue serving on their respective police forces.

Carter told Maryland Matters Tuesday that she’s “fairly certain” that the two bodies can reach an agreement, but that there needs to be flexibility on both sides.

“Just so you know, we’re here on this legislation spending all this time because of the overwhelming number of police brutality incidents, primarily against Black people, Brown people and other people that are vulnerable,” Carter said. “It’s my opinion that it’s not more of a reason to fire a police officer than a misdemeanor assault committed against a member of the public. So I think … if we’re going to include non-felonies at all, it should be more encompassing.”

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