Clock still ticking on Massachusetts police reform bill

Police reform bills now have passed both branches of the state Legislature, but they still face a major time crunch as they head to a conference committee.

The House and Senate both passed their bills in the dead of night, with the House doing so after 10 p.m. Friday by a 93-66 vote. The Senate passed its version a week and a half ago in the wee hours of the morning, with a 30-7 vote.

Leaders in both houses are expected to appoint members of the conference committee on Monday, when both houses are back in session. Those members will try to hash out the differences and create a compromise bill — which then would have to be passed by both houses again in order to head to the governor’s desk.

But the formal legislative session ends this coming Friday, so they’re on a tight deadline.

The Senate and House bills have some significant differences, with the most high-profile split on qualified immunity, which is the legal doctrine that stops police officers from being legally liable in many cases. The Senate bill, which is generally more sweeping, cuts more heavily into qualified immunity, while the House final version didn’t make the same kinds of changes.

That left the House bill in a particular crossfire after its passage, with progressive groups slamming it as too tame, while police unions and associations continuing to accuse the bill of going too far, as they say the Senate bill also does.

A spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker, who introduced his own, different proposal last month, said the governor “would carefully review legislation that reaches his desk.” The House didn’t pass the bill with a 2/3 supermajority, meaning that if Baker were to veto the bill, it would need to gather more support for the House to override.

Both bills place restrictions on police use of force, include increased oversight and seek to create bodies that would license police officers. The House bill would create a commission to study qualified immunity.

This comes amid the national focus on racial issues following the weeks of protests and advocacy after several high-profile deaths of Black people. Protesters have called for more police accountability.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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