Stage set for final negotiations at Maryland State House over legislation to change policing

Maryland lawmakers set the stage Tuesday for final negotiations over a series of major policing bills that are the General Assembly’s top remaining priority with the legislative session ticking to a close.

After several hours of contentious debate, the House of Delegates passed the final piece Tuesday of a Senate-drafted package of bills, a measure that would give the public limited access to disciplinary files and complaints against officers through public records requests and place new limits on no-knock search warrants.


The bill’s most controversial provisions include allowing the release of complaints that internal affairs investigators deem unfounded, as well as requirements that police execute search warrants during daytime hours, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Republican delegates sharply criticized those provisions and offered a series of amendments, all of which the House rejected.


Minutes later, senators across the hall formally agreed to begin negotiations over a comprehensive policing bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones that had been caught in legislative limbo since senators signed off Friday on an extensively amended version of that bill.

The House Judiciary Committee extensively rewrote the Senate-drafted package, creating major differences between the versions of those bills.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee reviewed those extensive changes Tuesday evening, with Democrats voting along party lines to recommend accepting the House versions instead of pressing for negotiations over the differences.

Republicans on the committee took issue with that approach, arguing that detailed negotiations were needed to work through big gaps in the bills’ provisions.

In addition to releasing disciplinary records, other pieces of the police package would dramatically overhaul the disciplinary process for officers accused of misconduct, create an independent unit under the Maryland attorney general’s office to investigate police killings, alter training and hiring standards for officers, and mandate officers wear body cameras statewide by 2025.

Jones and state Senate President Bill Ferguson have expressed confidence that the General Assembly has the ability this year to make sweeping changes to law enforcement in Maryland.

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Jones has linked the shifting political climate in Annapolis to massive nationwide demonstrations last year over police killings in Baltimore, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Louisville and elsewhere.

Just days after George Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Jones convened a bipartisan work group tasked with drawing up a raft of proposals to improve policing in Maryland. Among its most straightforward recommendations was a call to repeal the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, adopted in 1974.


Now, the debate in the Maryland legislature is taking place as the officer charged with killing Floyd is on trial.

Lawmakers in Annapolis are working against a looming deadline to strike a deal and send bills to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The General Assembly’s 90-day legislative session is slated to end at midnight Monday.

Hogan has criticized some ideas to change policing in Maryland, but hasn’t weighed in on any of the bills in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers initially hoped to send police bills to Hogan by last weekend to guarantee time to override any potential veto from the governor before the session ends.

That deadline has come and gone, but lawmakers have other potential options to override a veto without waiting until next year’s regular session, including by extending the 2021 session or returning to Annapolis for a special session.