The Reform - Shift - Build Act: What's in It, What's Not, and How They Voted?

At 4:12 am on Tuesday, July 14, after having been in session since 11:00 am the day prior, the Massachusetts State Senate voted 30 to 7 (with 3 voting present) to pass S.2800: An Act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color (Reform - Shift - Build Act). 

Voting NO were five Democrats -- Nick Collins, Anne Gobi, Michael Moore, Mike Rush, and John Velis -- and two Republicans -- Ryan Fattman and Dean Tran. Voting present were Democrat Diana DiZoglio and Republicans Patrick O’Connor and Bruce Tarr. Notably, two of the YES votes spoke on the floor that they hoped that the House would weaken the bill: Democrats Mike Brady and Marc Pacheco. 

What the Bill Does (And Doesn’t Do) 

The bill strengthens the use of force standards for all law enforcement agents, creates a majority-civilian Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Commission (POSAC) charged with certifying and decertifying law enforcement officers, establishes a Justice Reinvestment Fund to move money away from policing and prisons and into education and workforce development opportunities, places a moratorium on facial surveillance technology, reduces the school-to-prison pipeline by prioritizing student safety over criminalization, removes barriers to expungement of juvenile records, establishes stronger oversight and limitations on the procurement of military equipment by law enforcement, bans racial profiling in law enforcement, creates a commission on the status of African Americans and (as amended) the Latinx community, and requires increased data collection and reporting.

It also bans certain practices that are -- absurdly -- not already illegal, e.g., police officers having sex with individuals in custody (something that can never truly be consensual). 

The bill, unfortunately, does not go far enough. The definition of “chokehold” in the bill’s ban on chokeholds is too narrow (more on that later). The bans on tear gas and no-knock raids have considerable loopholes. The bill, moreover, could have done more to limit the scope of policing, as the main way to reduce police brutality is to reduce the possibility of interactions with police. And the doctrine of qualified immunity -- which permits law enforcement to violate people's constitutional rights with virtual impunity -- should have been outright abolished rather than just limited. But all that said, it is still a significant step forward.

Some Things Weren’t Controversial 

Senators filed a total of 146 amendments, some of which got voted up or down by voice vote, some of which were withdrawn (47, to be exact), and some of which received recorded votes.

Eight amendments received unanimous recorded votes: 

  • Amendment #7 (Intervention) from Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, which clarified that the duty to intervene applied to other officers and not to bystanders
  • Amendment #9 (Minority Appointments) from Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, which would give the Republican minority the ability to appoint a member to the commission on the status of African Americans 
  • Amendment #16 (Creating a Commission on Structural Racism) from Harriette Chandler, which would create a commission to study structural racism in policing and the criminal-legal system and recommend policy solutions to eliminate it 
  • Amendment #28 (Removing offensive language against LGBTQ+ individuals) from Harriette Chandler, which replaced some archaic language in the bill 
  • Amendment #39 (Latinx Commission) from Joe Boncore, which would create a commission on the status of the Latinx community 
  • Amendment #43 (POSAC and MPTC Membership) from Bruce Tarr, which requires the police officer standards and accreditation committee and the municipal police training committee to meet twice a year to review and make recommendations to improve current police officer training standards
  • Amendment #103 (Defining Totality of the Circumstances) from John Keenan, which would alter the definition of “totality of the circumstances” to include information prior to interaction

Amendments that passed by voice vote included ones to increase access to records (#59, #113), strengthen data tracking/reporting (#76, #80), strengthen requirements in de-escalation training (#30, #41), promote alternatives to incarceration (#36), ensure that decertified officers cannot serve as correctional officers in prisons and jails (#27), and require a public process before any state purchase of military equipment (#38). Among the withdrawn amendments were ones to decriminalize homelessness, ban no-knock raids, and lift the cap on the bill's Justice Reinvestment Fund. 

But Let’s Get on to the Contested Votes 

The first contested vote of the evening was on Bruce Tarr’s Amendment #117 (Implementation), which would have required an unnecessary fiscal study of the bill to bog down implementation. The amendment failed on a vote of 12 to 27. Joining the four Republicans were Mike Brady, Nick Collins, Diana DiZoglio, Michael Moore, Marc Pacheco, Walter Timilty, John Velis, and Jim Welch. 

Juvenile Justice 

Anne Gobi’s Amendment #123 (County Correction and Juvenile Detention Officers Commission), which would have struck the language creating a commission on the use of force in juvenile detention facilities (yes, they thought that a *commission* was a step too far), failed on a vote of 16 to 24. 12 Democrats joined the four Republicans in voting for it: Mike Brady, Diana DiZoglio, Paul Feeney, Barry Finegold, Anne Gobi, Edward Kennedy, Joan Lovely, Michael Moore, Marc Pacheco, Walter Timilty, John Velis, and Jim Welch. 

Pat Jehlen's amendment #108 (Protecting Students From Profiling), which would protect students from having school officials wrongfully entering them into a gang database and risking their deportation, passed on a vote of 27 to 12. (Learn more about the issue here.)

Joining the 4 Republicans in voting NO were Brady, Collins, Gobi, Kennedy, Moore, Pacheco, Velis, and Welch.

Qualified Immunity 

One of the main points of contention in the bill -- one for which senators were bombarded with calls from police officers and their families -- was the language to limit qualified immunity. 

The doctrine of qualified immunity grants impunity to public officials (especially law enforcement) who violate someone’s constitutional rights unless there is an identical situation in case law in which a public official was held accountable. In short, it gives carte blanche to police officers to violate people’s basic rights. Read more on the doctrine here.

The Senate bill reforms qualified immunity so that an officer may be held civilly liable for excessive use of force.

The Senate took two recorded votes on this issue. 

The first was on a corrective amendment (#121) introduced by Ways & Means chairman Michael Rodrigues to clarify that public officials would remain indemnified in such lawsuits. Police officers’ wives had been calling senators sobbing that they could lose their homes if QI were touched. That’s obviously false: public employees’ own assets are not seized in such cases. (Whether or not police should be personally liable -- that’s another issue entirely). The amendment was mostly -- but not entirely -- a proxy for support for the QI reforms in the bill. It passed on a vote of 26 to 14. 

Joining the four Republicans in voting NO were Brady, Collins, DiZoglio, Feeney, Gobi, Keenan, Pacheco, Timilty, Velis, and Welch. 

The second vote was on an amendment from John Velis to delay the qualified immunity reforms in the bill for 180 days (#137, Special Commission to Study Qualified Immunity). As Sonia Chang-Diaz pointedly noted during the debate on the amendment, “People of color in MA have a unique resource right now: the attention of a mostly white electorate. It is a resource that is born in tragedy and born in anguish. And it is a resource that will not be there in 6 months.” 

The amendment failed on a vote of 16 to 24. 

Twelve Democrats joined Republicans in voting for it: Brady, Collins, DiZoglio, Feeney, Gobi, Keenan, Moore, Pacheco, Rush, Timilty, Velis, and Welch. 

Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Commission

The Senate voted down two efforts to undermine the certifying/decertifying body created by the bill. 

Ryan Fattman's amendment #51 (POSAC), which would have replaced the ​Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Commission in the bill with Governor Charlie Baker's weaker and non-independent version, failed on a vote of 10 to 29. 

Joining the four Republicans in voting for it were Brady, DiZoglio, Gobi, Moran, Pacheco, and Timilty.

Nick Collins's amendment #134 (Opportunity to Appeal), which would have made it harder to decertify law-breaking police officers, failed on a vote of 16 to 24.

Joining the Republicans in voting for it were Brady, Collins, DiZoglio, Feeney, Gobi, Keenan, Moore, Montigny, Pacheco, Timilty, Velis, and Welch.


The definition of a chokehold in the bill is, unfortunately, so narrow that Derek Chauvin's choke hold of George Floyd would really only be illegal in the final seconds.

Jim Welch’s amendment #58 (Clarifying the Definition of Choke Hold) sought to fix that, but it failed on a vote of 16 to 24. 

The 16 senators who voted to actually ban chokeholds were Sonia Chang-Diaz, Nick Collins, Jo Comerford, Cindy Creem, Julian Cyr, Sal DiDomenico, Diana DiZoglio, Jamie Eldridge, Adam Hinds, Pat Jehlen, Eric Lesser, Joan Lovely, Mark Montigny, Becca Rausch, John Velis, and Jim Welch -- a strange bedfellows mix of the progressives and some of the most conservative Democrats. 

Dean Tran sought to weaken the too-weak language even further with his amendment #62 (Chokehold in self-defense), but it failed overwhelmingly on a vote of 3 to 36, with only Ryan Fattman and Patrick O’Connor joining him.

What's Next?

The bill now moves to the House. Find your state representative here and give them a call.

How Your Senator Voted

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Showing 3 reactions

commented 2020-07-18 17:00:35 -0400 · Flag
Thank you. This is very informative.
commented 2020-07-17 13:43:01 -0400 · Flag
Thanks for the good work here in drilling down into the weeds so this important issue can be see in the transparency of daylight. I do believe that the energy is swelling in this moment and the long overdue overhaul of law enforcement is a critical piece of the larger social puzzle which as a whole creates systemic racism. It is time, and I say this as a 68 years on this planet, white male for people of color to not have to live as second class citizens and be in fear of the police, who we are told are our guardians not our oppressors. This bill is a good first step towards taking the steps needed to make that a real reality.
I say this with a heavy heart for all the police officers who have been doing a commendable job in spite of all the adversity which exists. I’m sure the job demands greatly of them in doing the work they do. I do hope these reforms will begin to help weed out those who saw this work as an easy paycheck and not a socially responsible place of responsibility to shine and do the most good to be of benefit to the community in which they serve. Again, thanks for outlining what this reform package bill contains and all the ins and out that went into the process to make the sausage.
The only addition I would add is to have included a Representative finder for those of us who’s hearts are in the right place, but have no idea, sadly, of who their representatives are, so I cannot contact them. Besides that, I’m impressed by your good work to keep us all informed on what changes Boston is undertaking to meet the movement which is focused on societal change long overdue to lift us all up in our dream of a democracy.
published this page in The Latest 2020-07-15 10:59:41 -0400
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