State senators advanced police reform legislation its drafters said is wrought with “heartbreaking” compromise and vowed to “fight again” for provisions Gov. Charlie Baker rejected earlier this month.
Senators voted 31-9 on Monday to approve an amended version of bill that allows the use of facial recognition technology, as demanded by Baker, and removes police training standards from civilian oversight. Both elements were among deal-breakers identified by Baker when he sent it back to lawmakers Dec. 10.
The changes to the bill now go to the House for approval. A formal session is scheduled for Tuesday, without a calendar.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who helped draft the legislation, said “though we mourn the things it is not,” this bill “will set a new standard that has the potential to ripple through the other 49 states.”
According to Chang-Diaz, the bill establishes the nation’s first police oversight board — called the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission — with a civilian majority.
She vowed to “fight again next year” over other provisions lost to negotiations. The bill sought to restrict police use of facial recognition technology, except for by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. It would have also empowered the civilian-controlled board to set use-of-force and training decisions.
“It was especially heartbreaking to reach the turning point of getting a bill to the governor’s desk that already included so much compromise on the part of communities of color,” said Chang-Diaz.
Senate President Karen Spilka said the bill “takes into account the priorities expressed by people of color, including the development of use-of-force standards and the limitation of facial recognition technology, while also striking a balance amongst all involved to ensure this landmark bill becomes law.”
The legislation initially drafted this spring at the height of racial justice protests that swept the nation in the wake of the high-profile police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd has undergone many revisions during seven months of debate on Beacon Hill, but Chang-Diaz said the version passed Monday is one protesters can be proud of.
Rev. Burns Stanfield of South Boston’s Fourth Presbyterian Church said he was “glad” to see the legislation “upholding key provisions” outlined by communities of color.
Beverly Williams, co-chair of Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and Bethel AME Church, urged the governor to sign the bill.
“We are tired of the killings, the inhumanity of the attitude police hold for Black and Brown people. Without reform … we are still at square one,” she said.
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