This week, the Connecticut Senate passed a police accountability bill, which its colleagues in the House passed last week. It changes how misconduct cases are investigated, clarifies when deadly force can be used, and bans chokeholds in most cases.
Judiciary committee chair Gary Winfield, who is African American, pleaded with his colleagues to pass the bill.
"We're creating a law, that if police do something wrong, and they trip over it, then the law affects them," Winfield said. "If they don't do something wrong, like I believe most will not, it doesn't affect them."
Governor Ned Lamont signed the bill into law Friday afternoon.
The legislation did have opposition from police unions and Republicans in the Connecticut Senate.
Panelist Dave Eisenstadter said the Connecticut legislation does not go far enough to reform policing — but he said no single bill right now could satisfy what needs to be done.
“I see this as kind of the bare minimum,” Eisenstadter said. “Something like banning chokeholds, which should have been done many years ago — you know, a lot of these provisions are absolutely no-brainers. This is a bill that can be a first step.”
Eisenstadter said policing reform can only be addressed by looking at how departments are funded, diverting public money to programs that support needs around mental health and housing, for example.
In Massachusetts, the House and Senate are trying to work out differences in their own versions of similar legislation.
Panelist Chris Collins said Republican Governor Charlie Baker is going to be under “tremendous pressure” to sign legislation that emerges from negotiations.
“When the Senate bill was passed, the first thing I thought was, it’s a pretty aggressive bill,” Collins said. “And typically, when aggressive bills come out of the Senate, they go to the House to get watered down. But the House version was pretty aggressive as well.”
Collins said he thinks a compromise bill will be substantive.
“What it’s going to look like, though, is going to be sort of the proof in the pudding. But I think Baker's going to have to sign it,” he said. “Whether he will veto some provisions of it, I don't know. But that's one of the reasons why they're extending the session, I think, is to get that done.”
“I think that's a great point about the pressure,” Eisenstadter said. “I mean, someone like Bruce Tarr, who is the Senate minority leader, can vote ‘present’ on the bill and not really get any flack for it. For someone like Baker, that's actually going to be a decision-maker. That's a huge amount of pressure that none of these other Republicans who voted ‘no’ on these bills have had so far.”
Speaking of the Massachusetts legislature: they're headed into overtime. The House and Senate agreed to extend the formal session beyond Friday's scheduled end date.
There are still several high-profile bills to be worked out, including the policing bill and a full-year state budget. The extended session comes as Massachusetts will also be holding its midterm elections this year, including the primary in about a month.
Also this week, state education officials and the Massachusetts Teachers' Association agreed to push back the start of classes in order to give schools more time to prepare, given the challenges of the pandemic. Many school districts are still pondering how they'll reopen. State officials have told them to have plans ready for in-person or remote learning, or a combination of the two. The teachers association also has been saying it's too soon for in-person learning of any kind.
And, some parents are worried about sending their kids back to school, and are talking about "homeschooling pods" where families join together to help educate a small group of children. Some believe this might deepen racial and economic divides in a community.
We wrap up this week with news of more cases of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home. Some staffers there, who had previously tested positive, but had been declared "clinically recovered," tested positive again.
- Chris Collins, contributing editor, Franklin County Now
- Dave Eisenstadter, veteran western Mass. journalist