Senate Panel to Hold Rare Interim Bill Hearings on Police Reform Next Week

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County). Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hear testimony on bills surrounding police accountability and reform next week, committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) announced Tuesday evening.

“Systemic injustices in policing have plagued our communities for generations and developing the best solutions requires legislators to be thoughtful and purposeful,” Smith said in a statement. “To achieve this, we need participation from all Marylanders to find solutions to heal the relationship between our law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.”

Legislative committees routinely hold hearings throughout the interim, when the General Assembly isn’t in session. But bill hearings during the interim on specific pieces of legislation, which will presumably come up for consideration by a full legislative chamber during an upcoming legislative session, are unusual.

As the General Assembly’s presiding officers ponder ways to make the upcoming session safer and more efficient with the COVID-19 outbreak showing few signs of abating — it’s possible that other bill hearings will be scheduled before the official start of the session.

The announcement about hearings on police reform legislation come as several progressive groups continue to press legislative leaders to schedule a special session this fall to discuss police reform, legislation to prevent evictions, and other measures to mitigate the public health and economic challenges caused by COVID-19. The groups plan to stage a mock special session at an athletic field next to the Phoenix Academy in Annapolis on Wednesday evening.

The 2020 legislative session was cut short out of caution for COVID-19, leaving many bills in the dust. There is no indication that the General Assembly will reconvene before January 2021, but committees have had virtual briefings since the session convened. 

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May, Smith announced plans to propose sweeping police reform legislation for the 2021 legislative session.

The bills to be heard next week, sponsored by Smith, Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Senator Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), are designed to address use of force policies, the public disclosure of officer personnel records and the hotly contested Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, among other topics.

Copies of the bills to be heard will be publicly available Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Members of the public can sign up to testify before the committee on the Maryland General Assembly website beginning Thursday at 9 a.m. Hearings will run Tuesday, Sept. 22, through Thursday, Sept. 24 from 1 to 5 p.m.

The House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland, which also aims to produce legislation for the 2021 session, is scheduled to hold its next virtual meeting on Thursday afternoon. The panel will hear testimony from four local state’s attorneys and from representatives of the Maryland Public Defender’s Office.

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.