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Regional News

In Democratic Primary For Mass. State Senate, A Disagreement Over Police Bill

Springfield, Mass., City Councilor Adam Gomez (left) is challenging state Senator Jim Welch (right) in the 2020 Democratic primary.
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The Republican / masslive.com/photos
Springfield, Mass., City Councilor Adam Gomez (left) is challenging state Senator Jim Welch (right) in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Among the state legislative seats being contested in Tuesday's Massachusetts Democratic primary is the Hampden Senate district, which includes West Springfield, and parts of Springfield and Chicopee.

The race pits a five-term incumbent against a three-term city councilor.

First elected in 2010, Jim Welch of West Springfield is currently the longest-serving state senator from western Massachusetts. Adam Gomez was elected to the Springfield City Council in 2015, representing the North End, downtown and other neighborhoods.

During an online forum sponsored by the group MassVote, differences emerged between the candidates over a police reform bill, which remains stalled on Beacon Hill.

A particular sticking point is qualified immunity, which protects officers and other public officials from lawsuits.

Welch said he opposes fully eliminating qualified immunity, but “in terms of limiting qualified immunity, it's certainly something that I'm open to.”

Welch said more needs to be done to screen out potential employees who might have issues, such as the Minnesota officer accused of killing George Floyd. The officer, Derek Chauvin, had multiple complaints lodged against him.

“But I do not believe that somebody should be personally exposed for doing a job that we as a community — whether it's the state or a municipality — is asking them to do as a representative of that community,” Welch said.

Gomez said he has family members working in law enforcement. Repealing qualified immunity, he said, would not prevent police from doing their job in good faith.

“What I do not understand is the district with one of the nation's absolute worst offenders of police brutality, why our state senator would be one of the only Democrats to vote against that measure,” Gomez said.

Gomez was referencing years of investigations, criminal charges and brutality settlements involving Springfield officers.

“Our criminal justice system should be fair,” he said. “And victims of police misconduct should have their day in court.”

With no Republican candidates on the ballot this year, the winner in Tuesday's primary is virtually assured of claiming the Hampden District seat in November. In-person early voting for this and other races in Massachusetts ends Friday.

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