Lawmakers unveil draft police accountability bill

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Potential splits between Democratic and Republican lawmakers on police reform emerged Friday during the rollout of a draft of a wide-ranging police accountability bill.

Some of the more sweeping provisions propose creating an independent office to investigate and prosecute police for excessive use of force, establishing a process for decertifying police officers, and making police disciplinary records public.

Other proposals would rewrite use-of-force standards, require periodic mental health screening for police officers, more training, and stepped up efforts to recruit minority officers in communities with large minority populations, and mandate the use of body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras.

The 65-page, 41-section draft bill that the Democratic co-chairmen and ranking Republicans on Judiciary Committee unveiled Friday was presented not as a bipartisan compromise but only a working document.

“This effort that brings us the bill today was the bipartisan attempt to come to some agreement and do a significant and strong bill, and I think that’s what you see before you,” said state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the committee’s Senate chairman.

State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, and state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the ranking Republican members, stressed the draft legislation was only a starting point.

“Where we end up, I don’t know,” Kissel said.

The only bipartisan agreement is that the draft bill will be the subject of a committee hearing. No hearing date was announced Friday.

Rebimbas said legislators first need to hear from law enforcement, members of the public and other interested parties concerning the direct and indirect ramifications of the proposals as they see them to help guide the legislature’s deliberations.

“We always need to make sure what we do does not have unintended consequences,” she said. “We also want to make sure we always allow the ability for the public to participate whenever they want to. This is an important core function of our democracy.”

Yet, just how the legislative hearing will be conducted amid the coronavirus outbreak has yet to be worked out, and the format could cause disagreement between majority Democrats and minority Republicans.

Top Democratic and Republican leaders are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the police reform bill and next steps.

The draft legislation is being considered in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other police-involved killings. The bill is expected to undergo changes before its final adoption.

The plan is to pass a final version of the police accountability and transparency bill in a special legislative session before July 31, said state Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, the House chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

While a bipartisan compromise is desired, it is unclear if that is possible, but Democrats have the votes with a 90-61 House majority and a 22-14 Senate majority.

“There are sections in this document that some of us like. There are sections in this document that some of us do not like, and there are sections where we would like to see some changes made,” Rebimbas said.

She declined to say what proposals in the draft legislation that she finds objectionable, or what revisions she believes are needed before the public process plays out.

Kissel shared some of his concerns, including removing some of the legal protections for police officers against frivolous and unfounded accusations, due process rights in decertification matters, and the potential costs to the state and local governments.

“I just don’t want people to think because I’m up here that I’m rubberstamping this as ‘yes’ because I’m not, but I do think it is a really good starting point for this discussion, and I think the people of the state of Connecticut should be proud that it appears to me we are one of the leaders in having this conversation unfold,” he said.

Gov. Ned Lamont welcomed the release Friday of the draft of the police reform bill. He has been urging the General Assembly leadership to take immediate action.

“The time is now for meaningful police accountability reforms,” he said.