With the end of scheduled formal sessions fast approaching, the Legislature has moved forward on sweeping policing reform legislation that draws from bills filed by the governor earlier in the year and recommendations from legislators and advocates intended to stop police violence and misconduct.

The impetus for the push on policing reform was the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May and widespread protests over police violence that have roiled cities and towns across the nation this spring and summer.

A bill approved by the Senate on July 14 (S. 2820) would create a system for the training and certification of police officers and make other significant changes to law and policy to improve and enhance the accountability of policing in the Commonwealth. The legislation would start to transform how law enforcement is practiced in Massachusetts, with a focus on racial equity that many feel is long overdue.

After taking testimony from hundreds of people and organizations on the Senate plan, the House Ways and Means Committee released a reworked reform bill (H. 4860) that was quickly scheduled for debate on July 22.

Both bills include measures to reform the Massachusetts State Police based on legislation filed by the governor (S. 2469). The bills also include provisions of his bill (H. 4794) to improve police officer training and create a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee to certify police officers, which would be a condition of employment.

The Senate and House bills also reflect the Ten-Point Plan released in early June by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. The caucus plan calls for better training of police officers, a state certification law, and limits on police use-of force practices.

The Senate bill includes a controversial provision that would expand and codify the legal liability of police and all public employees and employers for cases of misconduct. The MMA has asked that this provision be further reviewed or amended. The House draft would narrow the scope of this provision, termed “qualified immunity.”

In testimony to the House and Senate, the MMA supported policing legislation as an important first step, but noted that much more is needed so that cities and towns have the management authority to ensure that the spirit and the expectations raised can actually be achieved.

The MMA asked that state law be changed so that local governments can effectively implement modern policing methods, and cases of misconduct can be swiftly and properly addressed at the local level, and not be undermined by the state’s Civil Service system and collective bargaining laws.

In addition to reforming state laws to enable cities and towns to hold public safety officers accountable for misconduct, the MMA asked for more flexibility in hiring and promotions so that cities and towns can diversify local police, fire and other municipal departments. The MMA testimony noted that these additional reforms are necessary steps to advance racial equity in our public safety system and to support modern human resources practices at the local level.

Written by