Massachusetts Legislature Passes Police Reform Bill – Now up to Governor Baker to Veto It
FAIR Take | December 2020
After months of negotiations, the conference committee finally reconciled the police reform bills and both chambers of the Massachusetts state legislature rapidly passed the legislation on December 1. In addition to posing serious dangers to law enforcement, it is likely to make immigration enforcement in the state even more difficult. However, Governor Charlie Baker (R) has not publicly indicated his intentions. If he vetoes the bill, it will likely die this session because it did not pass with enough votes to override the veto.
The solidly liberal Senate originally passed its version in a one-night session on July 14. The process was slower in the more moderate House which took up hundreds of amendments and did not pass its version of the bill until July 24. A six-member conference committee, three from each chamber, was appointed to reconcile the bills differences and produce the conference report, which cannot be amended but only voted up or down.
The conference report, published as Senate Bill (S.) 2963, eliminated some sticking points between the chambers. However, it still poses great dangers because it:
- Gives open-borders groups appointments to new statewide oversight boards and thus the ability to refashion police objectives to protect illegal aliens, including but not limited to punishing law enforcement and corrections officers who cooperate with federal immigration authorities;
- Acts as an open door for unaccountable unelected entities to potentially impose dangerous sanctuary policies administratively, without the accountability of going through the legislature;
- Goes beyond simply creating certification requirements and allows oversight boards to create one-size-fits-all policies that end the ability of local communities to set their own law enforcement priorities;
- Shields and protects criminal aliens by making a person’s immigration status a factor in whether an officer could be penalized for “misconduct” based on “bias;”
- Unnecessarily restricts information that schools can provide to law enforcement officials; and
- Impedes communication and collaboration between local law enforcement and federal law enforcement officials, particularly with respect to facial recognition information and technology, which these unelected entities could heavily restrict or even ban outright without further input from the legislature.
The conference report passed the Senate by a vote of 28-12, with eight Democrats joining all four Republicans to oppose the bill. In the House, the bill passed by a vote of 92-67, which is significantly less than the two-thirds supermajority required to override a veto. Interestingly, the conference report received less votes than the bills passed by the chambers originally.
Gov. Baker indicated some support for police reform after the death of George Floyd and had introduced his own narrower bill. He has not indicated whether he will sign S. 2963. His only comments publicly are that he “is committed to enhancing and improving public safety” and that he will carefully review the legislation sent to him by the legislature.
The state’s police unions have opposed the bill throughout the process and have called on Gov. Baker to veto S. 2963. Massachusetts Coalition of Police President Scott Hovsepian called it a “radical cruel attack on law enforcement” and criticized lawmakers voting on the bill just 24-hours after it was released following “a grossly unfair and opaque conference committee process played out in secret.”
If Baker vetoes the bill, it will first go back to the Senate for the veto override attempt where it could reach the needed two-thirds majority needed for an override. If the Senate overrides the veto, the bill will be sent to the House where at least ten “no” votes would be needed to change in order to override the veto, a scenario that appears unlikely.