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Sweeping Police Reform Bill Passed By House of Delegates

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). Photo by Danielle. E. Gaines

After more than nine months of work, eight public workgroup sessions, 10 successful amendments and four hours of heated floor debate, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 passed out of the House chamber Thursday evening on a vote of 96-40.

“Thank you, everyone, for the good debate on both sides,” Jones said after the vote. “It’s very difficult, very important subject matter. Thank you.”

House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) said she voted for the bill in honor of the members of her family who fought hard for social justice and persisted in the face of adversity.

“My vote is a green vote for a stronger and better Maryland,” she said. “Thank you, Madam Speaker.”

Atterbeary, the chair of the House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland, worked closely with Jones over the past few months and played a large role in the development of the bill that passed Thursday evening.

Jones created the workgroup, which was responsible for generating the recommendations that serve as the foundation for her reform bill, in response to the death of George Floyd late last May.

Atterbeary also chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Public Safety Subcommittee, which was responsible for workshopping and amending the bill before it came before the full committee.

But the bill didn’t pass the House floor without a fight.

Republicans unsuccessfully lobbed 17 amendments at the bill during an extended floor session Wednesday night, seeking to alter it from every angle.

And the debate continued Thursday, when the minority party attempted to localize the bill by calling attention to the crime rate in Baltimore City.

“My biggest bone of contention is this: In Maryland, virtually all of the headline-grabbing issues with law enforcement over the last seven years have emanated from Baltimore City,” said Del. Haven N. Shoemaker (R-Carroll). “If the Baltimore Police — if that department is the issue, this should be a Baltimore City bill and leave the rest of us alone.”

Shoemaker argued that Jones’ bill will cause a mass exodus of police officers from forces across the state.

“I’m a firm believer that perception is reality,” he said. “Folks from law enforcement that I’ve spoken with have indicated that HB670 [this bill] will make their lives difficult, if not impossible.”

Atterbeary countered that “reality is reality,” and the truth of the matter is that the Black and white Americans have starkly different experiences with law enforcement.

“We all heard the stories and watched the horrible murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Anton Black and the many, many others, and Maryland is not immune from that,” she said. “So no, this cannot be a local bill because we are here to legislate for the entire state of Maryland.”

A mother of three, Atterbeary told the chamber that she had to tell her kids “at a very young age” how they need to behave around police officers.

“I had to share with them: ‘We need the police, the police protect us. But if you get stopped by the police, this is how you should act.’ I had to teach them simultaneously to like the police but to be frightened of the police,” she explained. “This is not the reality that we want for our Marylanders.”

“This legislation is about moving towards a Maryland where all citizens — all citizens — receive the same treatment by the police,” Atterbeary said.

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said while there are portions of the bill that he said “force” him to oppose it, there are other provisions he found himself agreeable to.

Kipke recounted a story that Atterbeary told the night before about a tough conversation she had to have with her very young son who excitedly and mistakenly took something without paying for it.

Noting that they both are parents to young boys, Kipke said Atterbeary’s story stuck with him because that is a conversation he won’t have to have with his own child.

He said that while Republicans may not be “intimately acquainted” with the struggles of Black Americans, there is no denying that they continue to exist.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be fearful or wary of a police officer,” said Kipke. “In my experience, they have always been the ones you go to for help — the hero that puts his or her life on the line.”

“But I know that my experience is not everyone in this rooms’ experience,” he continued.

Kipke noted that the bill could still be altered by the Senate – which has advanced its own police reform passage – and he hoped there would be a compromise policing bill he could vote to support by the end of the session.

Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery), the lone Democrat to stand in the bill’s opposition Wednesday, stood to voice his support Thursday night, saying he recognizes that it’s the culmination of hard work that goes farther to address police accountability than the state ever has before.

“I, personally, would have like to see a little bit more but I recognize that we have done quite a bit in this bill,” he said. “My hope is that it would provide some relief to the families and the victims and folks who have come to Annapolis for many years to share their trauma with all of us and to beg us to take action.”

“That’s what we’re doing today, and I’m proud to vote green on this.”

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Sweeping Police Reform Bill Passed By House of Delegates