Tears streamed down Colorado lawmakers’ faces as House Speaker KC Becker, choking up, read the final vote tally.
House members passed a bill Friday that promises to bring sweeping changes to policing in the state, and it was expected to get a final vote in the Senate later in the evening. A dozen House Republicans joined all Democratic representatives in voting for the bill.
“I am feeling incredibly proud and grateful that this legislative body has stood up and listened to the protesters and listened to the families and said, ‘we’re going to do something about this injustice in our society and we’re going to start today,’” said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, said after the vote.
The bill passed the Senate 32-1 earlier this week, and Gov. Jared Polis said he will sign it.
The House vote came after lawmakers spent nearly two hours Friday sharing personal experiences they and their loved ones have had with law enforcement and the need for accountability to keep black and brown communities in Colorado safe. Several stressed that the bill isn’t about demonizing good cops but about holding those entrusted with protecting their communities accountable.
Senate Bill 217 was introduced in the wake of George Floyd’s death at police hands in Minneapolis and the protests that followed, but lawmakers stressed that the issues are not new and are very much Colorado issues, too. Among the biggest changes, the bill requires all officers to use body-worn cameras and a public release of footage within 45 days, bans the use of chokeholds and carotid control holds and limits when police are allowed to shoot at a person who is running away from them, commonly referred to as the “fleeing felon” statute.
Officers would need objective justification to make stops, be required to intervene when seeing other officers using excessive force or face a criminal charge and officers could be sued in their personal capacities and held personally liable up to $25,000 for constitutional violations, removing the”qualified immunity” protection that previously didn’t allow it. The bill also restricts the use of force officers can use on protesters and changes the standards for when police can use deadly force.
The bill requires agencies to report data annually so issues can be identified and addressed. It entrusts the Peace Office Standards and Training board to decertify officers who are fired for excessive force so they aren’t able to just get rehired by another department.
Herod said she wants to tell Coloradans and the people of Denver that Senate Bill 217 passed because they showed up, protested and demanded change, which helped push the legislation forward. But most importantly, she said, it honors families like those of Elijah McClain and De’Von Bailey. McClain died after a violent arrest by Aurora police in August and Bailey was fatally shot by Colorado Springs police in December last year.
Although the Republicans who voted against the policing bill cited concerns with how quickly it was pushed through — the bill was introduced just nine days earlier — supporters said these issues have been studied and worked on for years, but the political will to pass them just wasn’t there. They also worked with law enforcement and groups that would be affected throughout the process.
“Our communities are tired. And we have been asking for change for generations. Now is the time,” said sponsor Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver.
House Republicans who voted in favor of the bill said they were convinced by not only the stories shared but the need to hold accountable those entrusted with protecting their communities. Republicans previously opposed to the bill changed their minds after sponsors worked with them and stakeholders to make changes, they said.
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, said he was voting for it because it calls for policy changes that are needed.
“It’s my prayer that this bill will be a step forward and that’s why I’m voting yes,” he said.
Still, not every Republican was on board. Rep. Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins questioned the bill’s impact on officers on the street, saying many worry about whether they can continue to work in Colorado.
After discussions and some changes, law enforcement organizations came out in support of the bill.
“As difficult as this legislative process has been, we really do believe this is going to make us better,” Steve Schulz, president of the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement. “… We are committed to keeping the lines of communication open between law enforcement agencies, the communities we serve and lawmakers so that we can continue to work together and make necessary changes before crises arise.”
Thirteen House Republican representatives voted against the bill: Bockenfeld; Mark Baisely of Roxborough Park; Perry Buck of Windsor; Terri Carver, Larry Liston, Shane Sandridge and Dave Williams of Colorado Springs; Colin Larson of Littleton; Hugh McKean of Loveland; Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells; Lori Saine of Firestone; Matt Soper of Delta; and Perry Will of New Castle.
The Democratic governor applauded its passage.
“This is about a pattern of injustice and unfair treatment that Black Americans and communities of color have endured, not only in our criminal justice system but also in aspects of every day life,” Polis said in a statement. “Coloradans should be proud our state is leading the way to make policing more accountable, restore trust in law enforcement, uphold an individual’s civil liberties, and lay the groundwork for future discussions of criminal and juvenile justice reform.”
— Saja Hindi (@BySajaHindi) June 12, 2020
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Author: Saja Hindi