State lawmakers begin passing police reform bills

HARRISBURG (AP) — Pennsylvania’s House and Senate began passing legislation Wednesday spurred by widespread protests over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd, including legislation designed to prevent “bad apples” from continuing to find employment in police departments.

All of the votes were unanimous in the Republican-controlled chambers, although all four of the bills passed Wednesday still require approval from the other chamber before going to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf.

One Senate bill requires police agencies to compile and report use of force incidents, including injuries, death and the reason for the use of force.

The other bill requires departments to have a written use-of-force policy, make it public and train officers on it, while banning those use-of-force policies from including chokeholds.

“We watched following the murder of George Floyd citizens from all walks of life take to the streets to protest,” Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, told colleagues in floor remarks before the vote. “We’ve watched people express their concern, hurt and outrage online, and people ask the question, ‘how can this be legal or why is this possible?’”

The House approved a bill to require police departments to conduct background checks of job applicants that require an applicant’s former department to disclose information on the officer’s job history, including disciplinary actions, complaints and reasons for separation.

That bill directs the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission to maintain an electronic database containing that information.

“So-called bad apples will spoil the barrel if they are not plucked out before the rot spreads,” Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, said on the floor. “We have to address a culture where bad actors go unpunished or move on with their baggage.”

Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, called it “a seminal piece of legislation that will put the Keystone State not just on the map, but on the very top in terms of what policing and responsibility looks like.”

The database would not be accessible to the public.

The other bill approved by the House requires officers to be trained every other year in how to interact with people of different racial and ethic backgrounds and to receive annual instruction on de-escalation and harm-reduction techniques. It also requires officers to undergo a mental health evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder within 30 days of an incident in which the officer used lethal force.

Bills central to Democrats’ police reform platform — narrowing the circumstances in which the use of lethal force is allowable and appointing special prosecutors to investigate police shootings — have not seen action in the Legislature.

Also, Pennsylvania lawmakers are not considering legislation to make police department records of officer discipline accessible to the public, even as New York and New Jersey have moved in recent days to join other states that do so.