Multiple bills aimed at police reform introduced during Texas’ 87th Legislature failed to gain traction. while bills aimed to maintain police funding and to protect officers were signed into law.
An El Paso City Council member said several proposals designed to ensure safety while increasing trust between residents and law enforcement instead fell victim to politics. The regular session of the Legislature ended May 31.
“The entire discussion which should be a rational, fact-based discussion, became completely politicized — I think to the detriment of very good officers and police departments throughout our state, as well as the citizens,” said West Side city Rep. Peter Svarzbein.
Sweeping reform bills were introduced by Democtratic lawmakers following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd during an arrest last May. His death sparked national outrage and ignited calls for police reform.
But the bills met resistance from police unions and Republican lawmakers.
Key bills, including the George Floyd Law Enforcement Accountability Act, would have removed immunity that protects officers from lawsuits for use of excessive force and would have required law enforcement agencies to adopt use-of-force policies that emphasize conflict de-escalation and allowed deadly force only as a last resort, among other restrictions.
Other bills aimed to ban the use of chokeholds, no-knock warrants and would have required peace officers to undergo implicit bias training.
East-Central city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez said she was concerned there were no discussions with municipal leaders and local law enforcement agencies ahead of the bill filings.
“It’s hard for me to take these issues seriously, when there hasn’t been a willingness to work with municipal leaders on this. We’re the ones who have to accept these mandates, sometimes unfunded mandates and they (may) have drastic changes to collective bargaining agreements,” Hernandez said of the proposed reform bills. “It puts us in a precarious position.”
But while many police reform bills stalled, bills that support police officers and aim to keep funding levels for departments intact passed and were signed into law.
These are bills signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott that have an impact for El Paso:
House Bill 9, by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth: The bill increases the criminal penalty from a misdemeanor to a state jail felony for anyone who intentionally blocks an emergency vehicle or obstructs access to a hospital. It is designed to crack down on protesters who impede traffic.
House Bill 2366, by state Rep. Brad Buckely, R-Killeen: The bill makes it a felony to use laser pointers against officers and creates an offense for the use of fireworks to harm or obstruct police.
House Bill 1900, by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth: The bill prevents large cities and counties from defunding police. If it is determined that a municipality defunded its police department, the bill allows state officials to instead appropriate part of a city’s sales taxes to pay expenses for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Cities would also be banned from increasing property taxes or utility rates, which could have been used to compensate for the reapportioned sales taxes.
House Bill 54, by state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock: The bill bans any future contracts between reality TV shows and police, such as “Live PD.”
Officers from the El Paso Police Department participated in “Live PD” program from the fall of 2017 through the summer of 2018.
Sgt. Enrique Carrillo, El Paso Police Department spokesman, said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters that the police department will abide by the new laws.
“Regarding the department’s association with the television series, at that time it was legal and ethical,” he said.
Carrillo also said that defunding police departments would be detrimental to those most in need of police services.
“You would be hard pressed to find a city that can report a positive outcome as a result of defunding,” he said. “For the most part, if not all, you’ll find the cost of defunding police departments has come at a high price to the citizens of those cities.”
Cover photo: El Pasoans marched to call for an end to police violence against African-Americans on June 1, 2020. (Michaela Román/El Paso Matters)