Sweeping Police Reforms Passed, Await Governor’s Action

Following extended debate across both chambers, the General Assembly passed a suite of bills intended to add to police accountability and standards. The mostly party-line vote has stakeholders awaiting the Governor’s action on the several proposals.

Police reforms have gathered public attention for many months, and Maryland is among many states contemplating broad reforms to discipline and accountability for officers. Following a complex, and sometimes contentious, debate on multiple bills, the General Assembly finally passed on Wednesday April 7 a slate of bills to effect multiple changes.

HB 670, introduced by Speaker Adrienne Jones, has been the centerpiece of the most visible debate, receiving waves of amendments from both the House and Senate, and then a resolution via a conference committee. That bill includes a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, and replaces those principles with new structures and standards for officer investigations, charging, and discipline. It also changes liability standards in police misconduct cases, a matter of meaningful importance to local governments and their taxpayers.

Speaker Adrienne Jones, whose HB 670 was a centerpiece of the law enforcement reforms passed through the General Assembly this session.

The Daily Record has offered detailed coverage of the bills and debate, on their subscriber-only site, citing “a raft of police reform proposals to curtail deadly and excessive force, limit no-knock warrants and make the police disciplinary process uniform across the state and with greater civilian oversight.”

A full treatment of the bills and their provisions is available on the Maryland Matters website, where reporter Hannah Gaskill has committed to thorough coverage of these matters all session long. From the Maryland Matters write-up:

But HB 670 wasn’t the only bill to receive pushback from Senate Republicans Wednesday.

The Senate also cast its final votes on police reform originating in its chamber, most of which received harsh criticism from Republicans on the Judicial Proceedings Committee’s decision to concur with House amendments that condensed the package of nine, largely bipartisan bills down to just four pieces of legislation, including:

SB 600, sponsored by Smith, which would set forth a process to independently investigate use of force incidents that result in death through an independent unit of the Attorney General’s office and adopted portions of SB 599 to prohibit law enforcement agencies from procuring weaponized vehicles and other surplus military equipment;

SB 178, sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), which would alter the Maryland Public Information Act to allow certain officer misconduct records to be available for public inspection and adopted portions of HB 670 and SB 419 to regulate the execution of search warrants;

SB 71, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), which would order police departments throughout Maryland to provide body-worn cameras for on-duty officers by 2025 and adopted measures from SB 74 to create an employee assistance mental health program and portions of HB 670 and SB 626 to implement a statewide use of force policy; and

SB 786, sponsored by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), which would create a vehicle to re-establish local control of the Baltimore Police Department.

Stakeholders collectively are contemplating the next steps, especially given the partisan tone of the floor debate on the final bills, and the Governor’s initial comments, shared via Baltimore Sun reporter Pam Wood’s social media today:

Watch for the full audio of the interview to soon be linked on the C4 and Brian Nehman page on the WBAL radio website.

Given the late session passage, the Governor will have a full time window to contemplate whether to sign or veto the bills. They each passed with an apparent “veto-proof” supermajority (meaning if the same supporters remained in favor the General Assembly could override the Governor’s veto), but the timing of a potential override is not clear as of this writing (Thursday, April 8).

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties