Monday, August 17, 2020

What's in Texas' proposed 'George Floyd Act'?

Last week, while your correspondent was focused on Austin's budget battles, in Houston the Texas Legislature's Black Caucus unveiled what's been dubbed the "George Floyd Act," which will be carried in the House by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and in the upper chamber by Sen. Royce West. See initial coverage:

Readers may recall that Grits had suggested several reforms that one might reasonably include in such an eponymous bill that related to George Floyd's story, and some of those ideas made it into the legislation. Those include reforming use of force standards to narrow when violence may be used, and instilling a requirement that force be proportionate to the circumstances. The bill would also codify a "duty to intervene" for police officers, and require corroboration for police testimony in drug cases. 

In addition to the "duty to intervene," the bill would establish a "duty" for officers to identify themselves unless it's "impracticable" to do so, and create a "duty to render aid" when people are injured in their custody.

Another key element in the proposed George Floyd Act: The bill would create a new cause of action in Texas for civil-rights violations and eliminate the doctrine of "qualified immunity," an invention of the federal courts, for state-level civil-rights suits. Colorado became the first state to pass such a law in June. This is an element about which George Floyd's family was particularly passionate, say advocates who've spoken to them.

With a couple of exceptions, most of the changes Grits had suggested to the state-civil-service code governing disciplinary processes were not included in the bill, except for a requirement that agencies have a "disciplinary matrix" defining allowed punishments for various types of misconduct. This is a reform your correspondent has been promoting for years and has been identified as a key corrective to arbitrators overturning chief's decisions to fire police officers - if the punishment falls within a prescribed range, arbitrators must consider it per se reasonable. 

The bill also includes takes up unfinished business from the 2017 Sandra Bland Act. A passage stripped out of that bill would have eliminated most arrests for Class C misdemeanors, then in 2019 legislation to that effect was famously shot down by police unions and their allies. That language has been included in this legislation, although I'd also expect one or more bills to be filed focused exclusively on that subject.

The proposed George Floyd Act does not address many of the issues related to police disciplinary processes under the state civil service code, but I'm told some of the items Grits had recommended on that front may be proposed in stand-alone legislation.

The Texas Legislature doesn't convene until January, and even then the bill can't be taken up until March unless Gov. Greg Abbott declares it an emergency item. Many of these ideas have been proposed in the past, which raises the question, have the terms of debate changed sufficiently in recent months to overcome police-union opposition? (Unions are virtually the only critics of most of these reforms.) No  one can say for sure, but Grits will be excited to find out.


Gadfly said...

If it's that weak of tea, relatively, aren't Senfronia Thompson, Royce West et al, a la Barack Obama, compromising away the compromise in advance?

Unknown said...

The proposed George Floyd Act is ridiculous and won't make communities safe. Eliminating qualified immunity will only increase frivolous litigation, resulting in the need for policing malpractice insurance. If you want true police reform, then get rid of civil service & arbitration. Arbitrators do nothing but skew the discipline landscape and thwart a Chief's legitimate authority to enforce agency standards. Duty to intervene is already required with an officer's oath of office, no need to codify that and most agencies specify that within their general orders.

Anonymous said...

There's already police malpractice insurance, the Union.

And plenty of other licensed professionals who earn less than peace officers carry their own liability insurance, buy their own tools, and get punished for their most grievous mistakes.

It's time police come live among us instead of lording over us.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see this! Hopefully, it passes and we see similar bills passed throughout the country. The police are totally out of control. Every day there is a new story of police violence and brutality. They need to be personally liable for their actions. Cities have been paying millions of taxpayer dollars to defend unconscionable actions of people who are supposed to serve and protect not terrify, intimidate, and abuse. As a teacher, if I abuse a child (which would NEVER happen), you can bet I'd be held personally liable. I would also lose my professional license and would never teach again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Gadfly, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick will still be in office in 2021, so they're trying to propose something that's viable in that context. Regardless, I don't think the police unions would tell you it's "weak tea." They've fought many of these proposals viciously in the past.

@4:00, I'd be fine with getting rid of Texas' civil service code. But they also need to narrow use of force standards and eliminate qualified immunity. More than one thing can be true at the same time.