Maryland legislators were still wrangling Friday over key provisions of a package of police accountability measures. Among sticking points were details of how to revamp the disciplinary process for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct.
Separate versions of the package have passed both chambers of the General Assembly by veto-proof margins, indicating broad support among lawmakers.
But a number key differences remained, including over how allegations of misconduct against officers should be investigated and resolved.
The General Assembly’s annual 90-day session ends at midnight April 12, the deadline to pass legislation. Some lawmakers were hoping to send policing bills to Gov. Larry Hogan by Saturday, which would guarantee lawmakers enough time to override any potential vetoes before the end of the legislative session.
Hogan, a Republican, has criticized some aspects of police reform proposals but hasn’t weighed in on any of the bills in the General Assembly.
Following two late nights of emotional debate, Maryland’s state senators late Thursday approved a sweeping police reform bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones that would revamp the disciplinary process for problem police officers — but senators first made amendments that tweaked several portions of the disciplinary process.
“While we’re here because many of us, and all people across the world, were moved by George Floyd, I want to remind us that is not unique. Maryland, our state, has tragedy after tragedy after tragedy,” Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who has fought for years for stronger discipline and oversight of police, said in a speech Thursday night.
Hours later, the House of Delegates rejected the Senate’s extensive amendments, sticking to its own version of the bill and setting the stage for continued negotiations between lawmakers to hash out the differences.
“Debates being what they are, sand is constantly shifting under your feet,” Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, said Friday afternoon.
Jones’ bill tackles several of the most controversial aspects of police reform, including repeal of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a 1970s law that enshrined a series of job protections for officers and due process rights for those accused of misconduct.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Activists have demanded repeal for years, arguing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights makes it far too hard to fire bad cops and shields officers from accountability. Most Maryland lawmakers, following a summer of mass protests nationwide over police brutality, now agree — but haven’t yet found consensus on how to replace it with a new disciplinary process.
Under current law, accusations of misconduct or rules violations are decided by trial boards comprised of fellow officers. Both chambers agreed that civilians should have a role in those decisions and that state law should mandate a single process instead of leaving it up to local police departments to decide how such complaints are handled.
“Everybody is committed to changing the way that we deal with police discipline,” Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday night. “We are interested in changing the way that the process works so that people can feel more confident that when complaints come to the police department or … to the police advisory board that those complaints are taken seriously.”
The Senate backed a more streamlined disciplinary process that would give police chiefs and sheriffs more power to decide how officers are punished. The version supported by the House would give a newly created board — the “administrative charging committee” — the power to decide whether an officer faces discipline and create a statewide matrix of punishments that would effectively serve as mandatory minimum punishments for each type of infraction or misconduct.
Several other policing bills remain pending in the House after passing the Senate by wide margins back in February, including measures to give the public access to internal affairs complaints and disciplinary records and another to create new criminal penalties for officers who use excessive force. The House Judiciary Committee spent much of this week heavily reworking those bills and the full House began debating the first of those bills Friday night.
Clippinger said discussions on details of the policing bills will continue through the weekend and into next week, but expressed confidence that a deal would be reached and landmark legislation would be sent to the governor before the end of session.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.