Members of the Judiciary Committee will hold a “listening session” beginning at 10 a.m. today to garner public input on the police accountability bill that lawmakers will vote on in a special session next week.
The digital hearing is the latest disruption forced by the pandemic. Members of the House of Representatives are expected to gather on July 23 to take up measures on insulin costs, telehealth medical care, absentee ballots and police reform — but not broader health equity and housing proposals — in the first major legislative effort of the COVID-19 era. The Senate is expected to convene the following week.
The police reform proposal is a response to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whom a Minneapolis police officer killed while arresting him for allegedly attempting to pay for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Protestors gathered in cities across the country and Connecticut, demanding change and justice for Floyd and other people of color murdered by police who came before them.
Judiciary Committee members released a draft of the police accountability measure last week. Ranking Republicans on the committee stressed that it was a work-in-progress, fretting over what it could cost cities.
The bill is wide-ranging. Broadly, it focuses on holding police accountable for misconduct and murder, making sure officers are adequately trained and can manage crowds and mass demonstrations without resorting to violence, diversifying police departments across the state to make sure they reflect the communities they serve and ensuring officers don’t abuse their power when they make traffic stops.
Much of the measure deals with police accountability. It would narrow the instances in which police could justifiably choke or kill someone, and create a new Inspector General position to investigate deaths of people in police custody. It also would give local police civilian review boards the power to issue subpoenas, providing them with an important tool that could help them punish officers for misconduct.
The proposed legislation also creates a new legal path in state court for people to file lawsuits against police who violate their rights. That’s a provision local leaders are wary of but advocates say is necessary to make sure police departments don’t keep repeat violators on their payroll.
Several aspects of the proposal involve police training and assessment, and ask departments to assess how mental health professionals could help them respond to calls involving civilian emotional distress.
Police officers would be required to get mental health assessment at least every five years. And departments across the state would need to submit a report to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council outlining the feasibility and potential impact of using social workers to respond to certain calls, potentially saving the lives of people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Officers would also be required to attend implicit bias training so they can better recognize how they unconsciously treat, judge and interact with members of certain backgrounds or races.
State employees began uploading written testimony on the bill on Thursday evening. More than 200 documents had been uploaded as of 8 p.m.