COLUMBIA, Md. (Sept. 25, 2020)—Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith (D-Montgomery) on Friday refuted Republican claims that the committee's recent hearings on a series of bills aimed at addressing police misconduct were not ideologically inclusive and that the bills themselves would hinder law enforcement personnel.
The virtual hearings took place Tuesday through Thursday and lasted about five hours each day. The committee heard testimony from bill sponsors, expert panels, and members of the general public. A total of fifteen bills were considered. They address topics such as liability caps on police brutality suits, the use of body cameras, officer record transparency, and the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.
"I would disagree with the characterization of the bills because as all of the sponsors and myself included said this is not an affront to law enforcement. This is about restoring trust between law enforcement and the communities that they serve. These are bills that are aimed at addressing systemic inequities and it's really the systems that we're looking to reform," Smith told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Friday.
Smith added: "With respect to the balanced nature-the panels were balanced in terms of proponents and opponents. We heard lengthy opposition and lengthy critiques and tremendous input from a diversity of opinions throughout the state."
The four Republican members of the committee reiterated their displeasure with the bills and the hearing process in a joint statement on Friday.
"It is quite clear that after three days of a largely anti-police testimony and one-sided perspective, the Senate needs to hold actual bill hearings during the 90-Day Legislative Session where all sides are afforded the opportunity to be heard and participate. We are disappointed the process did not allow all for a diversity of ideas or authentic public input."
The lawmakers added: "As predicted, it quickly became apparent this was an engineered opportunity for liberal advocacy organizations to push radical policy proposals that would demoralize the State's law enforcement community, result in a blizzard of resignations and retirements, and halt police recruitment. We continue to stand in strong opposition to this so-called bill hearing process and the far-left anti-police agenda."
Smith said Republicans' claim that they were not invited to submit legislation is false.
"When I put out my letter…anyone was welcome to solicit. I said my door is open. I want to hear from everyone. And none of the Republican members walked through the door…I would say that legislating is proactive and if they wanted to put forth ideas they had more than an ample opportunity to do so."
Smith told MarylandReporter.com earlier this week that the committee decided to hold the hearings outside of the 90-day legislative session in order to get a jump start on the legislation.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Annapolis on Jan. 13, 2021.
The 2020 legislative session was cut short by three weeks due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.