State Legislation to Address Police Violence

Posted on June 07, 2020 · 5 mins read


A package of policing reform bills was introduced in 2019 to the Pennsylvania legislature, but have not seen movement from House and party leaders for months.

HB 1382 creates a special prosecutor in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office that would investigate police officers involved in shootings. The special prosecutor would be able to bring charges against officers, and the need for such investigations is more important than ever with violence by police against protesters. HB 1382 has 30 legislators are currently cosponsoring it. Anita Kulik is currently not a co-sponsor.

HB 1664 changes the rules on when police can use force. In particular, instead of justifying “any” force, it encourages only minimal, “reasonable” force and only allows for lethal force when there is imminent danger to life. HB 1664 has 27 legislators are cosponsoring it. Anita Kulik is currently not a co-sponsor.

Related to use of force, there is now an ordinance being considered at the Allegheny County level that would ban the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other chemical attacks for use by police in crowd control. Tear gas is actually banned for use during war by international law, and yet somehow police are allowed to use it domestically? It’s literally a chemical attack on our neighbors and should not be tolerated. I support this bill at the county level, and would introduce a similar statewide ban on chemical attacks by police if I were a current state representative.

HB 1666 sets up a statewide database of records of police officers. Police departments are required to review the records of officers before making hiring decisions, and must make public notice and provide a justification to the Attorney General for hiring decisions if the potential hiree has a “pattern of substantive allegations, complaints or charges related to excessive force, harassment, theft, discrimination, sexual abuse or sexual misconduct”. HB 1666 has only 19 cosponsors. Anita Kulik is currently not a co-sponsor.

HB 1812 would “set all of the standards for certification and decertification which will qualify a law enforcement officer to work as a licensed police officer, including Sheriffs, State Police, Municipal Officers and Correctional Officers”. The idea is that many professions require certification and licensure, but somehow law enforcement does not have a standard set of requirements and certification. It’s honestly ridiculous that law enforcement isn’t expected to go to law school, but this bill doesn’t go that far unfortunately. HB 1812 has only 14 legislators currently cosponsoring it. Anita Kulik is currently not a co-sponsor.

The State House consists of 205 members, 109 Republicans and 92 Democrats, with a couple of vacancies. While Republicans form a majority and therefore the Republican leadership decides votes, it is very disappointing that such a small number of Democrats are sponsoring this legislation. 30 co-sponsors isn’t even a third of the Democratic delegation, and the 14 co-sponsors of HB 1812 is even less. It speaks to police reform issues not being a priority in either party, honestly.

I would certainly support these bills if they came to a vote and would co-sponsor to help push conversation. But I also recognize that these bills are only a start; police “reform” is not sufficient. I previously wrote about the need to demilitarize, democratize, and defund the police, as part of a bigger package. I see the above bills as necessary but insufficient steps to fully implement our goals.

Other important ideas from the Green Party of the US platform should also be addressed, including ending the war on drugs, supporting alternatives to incarceration, civilian police review boards, and ultimately reparations. Ending qualified immunity in the state of Pennsylvania should also be a goal. Howie Hawkins has a policy paper on establishing community control of the police that I believe sets forward an excellent road map to accountability and ultimately a vision of public safety beyond policing.

UPDATE: 6/9/2020: The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus blocked House Speaker Turzai and spoke for over an hour about the need for the package of reform bills above. Garret calls on House leaders to move these bills and work additional legislation to defund policing and re-fund social services like education and healthcare. The title of this article was also changed to remove the word “County” to focus on the state legislative packaged under consideration; a separate article is being published on the county legislation, but the comment made in this article about the county legislation is left in its original place.

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