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Jones Defends House Police Reform Bill Amid Fierce Late-Night Senate Debate

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

Tensions ran high as House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 received preliminary approval during a marathon Senate floor debate Wednesday night that stretched into the early morning hours Thursday.

During the deliberations, Republican senators suggested political games were being played between the House and Senate chambers and made pointed comments about Jones. The legislation is likely to come up for a final vote when the Senate reconvenes at noon Thursday.

As the clock ticks nearer to Sine Die, both the House and Senate are charged with negotiating their respective police reform packages into one final product to be sent to the governor’s desk.

In an exclusive interview with Maryland Matters on Wednesday afternoon, Jones said she wants lawmakers to “get it done right.”

“That makes a difference,” Jones reinforced. “Not just saying we’ve got a bill. That’s the key.”

Senate Republicans spent hours — in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee late Tuesday night and on the chamber floor Wednesday and early Thursday — trying to amend the House bill in ways that would strike broad provisions and remove the teeth from other portions.

Throughout the debate, senators complained about Jones, the House of Delegates overall, and the way the two legislative chambers have been working together on police reform.

On Tuesday night, Judicial Proceedings Democrats sat silently listening to their Republican colleagues lob accusations at the opposite chamber. Similar sentiments were expressed late Wednesday on the Senate floor.

“What’s happened today represents the capitulation of the Maryland state Senate to the Maryland House of Delegates,” Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County) said late Tuesday night. “…It’s a shame that the two institutions have not figured out how to work together. But rather, because the Speaker of the House has indicated this bill is her baby, the Senate feels like we have to lie down and let her roll over us.”

During the same voting session, Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford) complained that Democrats on the committee were voting in favor of the bill without fully understanding it.

“It’s like ‘no, we’re not going to change this because Adrienne says that’s the law, so that’s the law,” Cassilly said. “It feels like we’re voting just to vote.”

Asked Wednesday if she’d like to respond, Jones said “that was responded to earlier today.”

She was referring to tweets in her defense late Tuesday by her chief of staff, Alexandra M. Hughes, and House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), criticizing Cassilly for not referring to Jones by her title and advising him to “show some respect.”

Jones was also referring to a comment made by House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) at the start of the House session Wednesday morning.

“It’s a great honor to rise here every day and refer to you appropriately and respectfully by your title, Madame Speaker,” he said to applause.

Jones, visibly touched by the gesture, called the standing ovation from each member of the House “refreshing.”

Cassilly has not publicly acknowledged his comments.

Asked if what transpired Tuesday evening may be a hindrance to moving the combined police reform package to the governor’s desk, Jones said it didn’t help.

‘I just hope this all can be worked out’

Jones said that, from her perspective, there was agreement from “both sides” on her bill that has been in the works since last May.

But some lawmakers feel differently.

Del. Lauren C. Arikan (R-Harford), who serves on the House Judiciary’s Public Safety Subcommittee, said she felt that while minority party members were given a seat at the table as Jones’ bill was being amended, they weren’t necessarily heard.

There were areas of agreement, she told Maryland Matters, and some of her smaller amendments were accepted, but the process of creating the House package seemed to be more rigid than the Senate’s bipartisan package, which the House Minority Caucus prefers.

Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) said at a virtual news conference Wednesday that he’s worried about the fate of the Judicial Proceedings Committees’ bipartisan police reform package.

The Senate divided its police reform package into nine separate bills — a contrast to the big omnibus measure that Jones passed through the House.

“The Senate very painstakingly worked through the legislation, and of the nine bills, eight were bipartisan, seven were unanimous,” Hough said. “…They dramatically reformed the discipline process” for police officers and addressed officers’ excessive force.

“And yesterday we jettisoned all that and took up House Bill 670,” he continued, displaying the 66-page bill on his webcam for reporters to see.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings for all nine of the Senate’s policing bills last week but has not yet voted on them.

Hough said that he thinks House lawmakers will probably move the Senate package “right before the deadline, which won’t give us any chance in the Senate — my fear is — to have really any input.”

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) told Maryland Matters in a brief interview after the Senate’s morning floor session on Wednesday that he is waiting to see what the House’s next steps will be.

“I just want to be absolutely respectful of the House and the speaker for the work that they have done and are going to do, so I defer to them for the process and the next steps,” he said.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee attached 16 amendments to Jones’ bill late Tuesday night; Republicans also attempted a series of changes on the Senate floor Wednesday night — but not before trying to delay action on the bill altogether.

Sen. Jason C. Gallion (R-Harford) suggested that the body shelve the House package until the House Judiciary Committee begins voting on the Senate package.

At a certain point, Senate Democrats joined in questioning why the bill was being rushed on the floor. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore City) even suggested Wednesday night that as Smith was managing Jones’ bill on the Senate floor, he was trying to signal to House members that they ought to show the same flexibility that senators have.

But Smith said that while the “other side of the hall” may be listening to the Senate debate, he was speaking solely and directly to senators and urging them to move forward with Jones’ bill.

“It’s clear the only bipartisan support we have on this bill is that it’s not ready,” said Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). “It’s not ready for prime time.”

But Republican efforts to delay the bill fell short — a motion to recommit Jones’ legislation failed on an 18-29 vote, though three Democrats voted for it — and the chamber rolled into a marathon session to amend the bill.

Eventually Jones’ bill received preliminary approval on a 30-16 vote.

Some amendment efforts were successful, including one offered by Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick) to give courts the authority to make officers forfeit their pensions rather than making it a mandate, and two offered by West: the first to insert portions of the Senate’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights repeal and replacement procedure into Jones’ bill and the other to establish that law enforcement agencies have the burden of proof under a preponderance of the evidence during trial board proceedings and that officers can only be disciplined for cause.

Asked about the 16 amendments added by the Judicial Proceedings committee on Tuesday night, Jones said “we like our product.”

“Right from the beginning, we had a great workgroup, we had input from the public — those who were victims, those who were in law enforcement,” she said. “And I’m not just saying it because we’re the House, but I’m saying it because the process we did was fair to everyone.”

“What you see before us now was the end-product of collaboration of with those who may have been one way, and after hearing the other … perspective … that was all taken [into] consideration,” she explained.

Before the marathon Senate floor session, Jones also told Maryland Matters that she’s “still open to discussions with the Senate.”

“I just hope this all can be worked out,” she said, “because it’s not … [about] which side, but in terms of a product that works best for the citizens all of us have to represent.”

“I think that’s the important takeaway.”

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Jones Defends House Police Reform Bill Amid Fierce Late-Night Senate Debate