Hundreds of law enforcement officers gather in Hartford to oppose police reform bill
House lawmakers returning to the state Capitol for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the region were greeted by hundreds of law enforcement officers who oppose a sweeping police accountability bill.
Late Thursday night, a new version of the bill was filed. It still allows individual officers to be sued, but requires the town they work for to pay their legal costs unless they lose the lawsuit.
The change addresses a key concern officers have raised, that they would be financially responsible if they had to hire a lawyer every time someone were to file a lawsuit.
House Republican leader Rep. Themis Klarides said it’s a non-starter for them because it shifts the extra cost onto towns and cities. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said the qualified immunity section might get removed as an amendment once debate begins.
The police bill comes after weeks of protests over the police custody killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Under the proposal, police shootings would be investigated by an independent inspector general – not a prosecutor. Also, most chokeholds would be banned.
But officers were most worried about losing their personal immunity from lawsuits.
"What's going to happen is, officers – if they're afraid that they're going to lose their livelihood, if they're not going to be able to provide for their families – they’re going to be reluctant to act,” said Sgt. Sherri Martin, of the Danbury Police Department.
After calls from police and even Gov. Ned Lamont, that part was mostly stripped from the package. However, the part of the bill involving immunity has still not been addressed.
"They would be indemnified and defended by their town up to, and including, the point where they are found to have committed a willful and intentional violation of somebody's constitutional right," said State Rep. Steve Stafstrom.
While the protest was loud outside the Capitol, only a handful of lawmakers were allowed in the House chamber at a time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most watched and voted from their offices.
"Anybody who wants to speak, or debate will come into the chamber, but we'll try to keep the number of people in the chamber to 10 or 20 at any given time,” said state Rep. Matt Ritter.
For now, the plan is to pass the bills in what could be a long night at the state Capitol.
Earlier today, the House extended coverage for telehealth doctor visits through next March. The House then overwhelmingly approved expanded absentee balloting for the November election. The House also passed a co-pay cap on insulin ($25/month) by a 142-4 margin.
The state Senate will vote on all four bills next Tuesday.