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Sen. Robert A. "Bobby" Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, discusses sending a police reform bill back to committee as Baltimore City Sens. Catherine Pugh and Nathaniel McFadden stand nearby discussing the fate of the legislation. (The Daily Record/ Bryan P. Sears)

Md. police reform bill takes late hit

A bill that makes changes to police training and oversight suffered a major, unexpected setback Monday night when it was sent back to committee during a preliminary vote in the Senate.

At issue was a requirement desired by some Baltimore City legislators that would mandate the addition of two civilians be placed on a panel that reviews brutality complaints against officers.

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, asked for the bill to be recommitted to his committee moments after the issue was raised by Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore City and a candidate for mayor, and as Sen. William Ferguson was proposing an amendment that would have made the desired change.

The changes were part of a series of controversial recommendations made by a legislative task force established by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. in the wake of the police-involved death of Freddie Gray. The recommendations were meant to help restore community trust in police by creating new training requirements as well as mental health evaluations for police, tax incentives for officers to live in the areas they police, and changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which gives specific protections to police officers.

The House version of the bill contains language adding the two members to the city review board.

Zirkin said the Senate version of the bill was a compromise and allowed each jurisdiction to add up to two members on local oversight panels as they saw fit but stopped short of carving out specifics for each jurisdiction because of the complexities of pre-existing collective bargaining agreements with individual police unions.

The bill as drafted by the Senate would enable local governments to add up to two civilian members by passing a local law.

Following the move, Zirkin was noncommittal about the procedural move that this late in the session typically means the end of the road for a bill. The 90-day legislative session ends in six days. Zirkin said there was time to bring the bill back out on the floor but said that adding carve-outs for individual jurisdictions were “bad public policy.”

Zirkin added that he moved to recommit the bill at the behest of Miller.

Miller, following the session, told reporters that the procedural move could indeed spell doom for the bill but held out hope that city senators would back down from amendments for individual jurisdictions.

“If they can’t see the folly of their ways, let them understand the consequences of their actions,” Miller said.