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Government & Politics Justice

Senate Rejects House Request for Conference Committee to Negotiate Police Reform Package

The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) made a motion Friday to reject amendments the Senate made to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ omnibus police reform bill.

And, in a surprise twist, the Senate did not agree to convene a conference committee to iron out the chambers’ discrepancies with the bill.

In a text message to Maryland Matters, House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) said that the Senate “is refusing to conference.”

“My guess is they are trying to force the House to take their position…a position that includes keeping convicted domestic abusers on the police force among other issues that need resolving,” Atterbeary wrote.

The House appointed Clippinger, Atterbeary and Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) to be its representatives. House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) would serve as an adviser to the committee.

Kipke did not serve on the House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland that created the recommendations Jones’ bill is based on, nor is he a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“The House asked for a conference committee,” Atterbeary said. “The Chair of [the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee] can appoint a [conference committee] right now and we could get together today and work this out.”

Despite holding two floor sessions Friday, the House’s rejection message was never read in the Senate chamber, and no Senate members were appointed to sit on a committee.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed Jones’ bill onto the Senate floor with 16 committee amendments Wednesday; senators added another seven floor amendments during hours of debate before it passed out of the chamber on a final vote of 32-15 Thursday night.

Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) told Maryland Matters in an interview after the first floor session Friday that, to his understanding, the Senate took up the House bill in an effort to avoid having to convene in a conference committee at all. But after problems with the bill arose in the committee room and on the floor, the Speaker’s bill began to change.

“There was a recognition that the Senate put together a good product, there’s some issues with this [House] bill, and so amendments started getting on there,” Hough told Maryland Matters.

Senate Republicans lobbed amendments at the bill Wednesday night and planned to continue Thursday until they struck a deal, Hough said.

To avoid both a conference committee and another late-night floor session, Republicans agreed Thursday night to accept a sweeping amendment offered by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) that would make the bill more amenable to the House, including:

  • Restoring the bill’s previous language to require an officer making a traffic stop to display proper identification, regardless of whether or not they’re in uniform;
  • Removing collective bargaining unit representatives and members of the Fraternal Order of Police from the administrative charging committee created under the bill and replacing them with a civilian designee of the chief or sheriff;
  • Giving chiefs and sheriffs the ability to fire officers for felony convictions;
  • Prohibiting agencies from entering into collective bargaining agreements that would interfere with the provisions of the bill or alter the investigatory process of misconduct proceedings;
  • Removing a portion of the amended bill that would allow officer misconduct records to be expunged; and
  • Requiring officers to undergo mental health assessments every two years.

Carter’s amendment passed with little debate. In turn, Smith, the bill’s floor leader, accepted a handful of “friendly” minority party amendments.

“So part of the agreement was … that we were going to put two more [amendments] on, take the Carter one, no conference [committee] and be done, and that was, quite frankly, what I agreed to,” Hough explained. “And so now I’m shocked that the House is not concurring, because that was not the agreement as I was told and agreed to.”

“It’s hard to it’s hard to make an agreement and deal with people if it keeps changing.”

The House Judiciary Committee condensed the Senate’s police reform package into four bills, three of which received preliminary approval from the House on Thursday evening.

On Friday, the House took up the fourth measure, Senate Bill 71, which, as amended, would require all Maryland police departments to provide body-worn cameras for on-duty officers by 2025 and implement a statewide use of force policy.

In an unusual procedural move, the bill was voted on twice in one day, passing out of the chamber on a vote of 92-37.

Senate Bill 786, a measure in the Senate’s package to re-establish local control of the Baltimore Police Department, passed out of the chamber earlier in the day on a vote of 115-20.

The two remaining Senate bills are expected to be taken up next week.

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