INDIANA — An Indiana House bill that would mean substantial police reform has already gained overwhelming bipartisan support in its originating chamber, and some local lawmakers say its passage would be a win-win for both residents and law enforcement agencies.
House Bill 1006, authored by Rep. Gregory Steurwald, R-40 and co-authored by nearly 100 other representatives including Ed Clere, R-72, Rita Fleming, D-71, Zach Payne, R-66, and Karen Engleman, R-70, unanimously passed the Indiana House Feb. 2 and was referred to the Senate the next day.
The earliest it could have any Senate action would be the first week of March, but Fleming said she hopes the strong bipartisan support shown so far signals similar support in the Senate.
“The Senate, I think, is fair-minded and this was a concern of theirs as well,” she said. “I thought it was a great bill...and it really reflected the crises that we’ve seen over the last year and addresses most of the major concerns that the public and the police departments had.
“I thought it was comprehensive, well thought out and very fair.”
The legislation comes after a reckoning last year in which people across the U.S. protested systems that have perpetuated police brutality against Black Americans and demanded change. Some law enforcement also have expressed the need for more clear accountability through the use of things such as body cameras, which can protect officers and residents by providing transparency.
As written now, the bill would require the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board to implement mandatory training in de-escalation as part of basic and in-service training for officers and includes a $70-million appropriation to the state training board for major capital improvements at a scale that hasn’t been seen for several decades.
The legislation defines “chokehold” and limits its use and states that any officer who is found to have turned off a body camera to hide an illegal activity can be charged with a class A misdemeanor. It allows the state training board to decertify an official who has committed misconduct and requires a department to request certain employment information from previous departments and for the departments to provide the information in the case of a new hire.
Clere said the bill, which included input from diverse stakeholders, and its strong support with the 96-0 vote is a testament to how important the measures are.
“It’s an example of how the legislative process can and should work,” he said. “Obviously it’s a very difficult subject and I give the author of the bill along with the initial co-authors credit for accomplishing something truly significant and amazing really.
“There has been so much partisanship and controversy and acrimony around the issues in the bill, it’s quite an accomplishment that the bill passed 96 to 0 — true bipartisan victory....”
Payne said legislators took input from both sides of the aisle to both support law enforcement and add more accountability to their work. That included talking with state organizations such as the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police or the Indiana Sheriff’s Association.
“It’s wholly important certainly, but I am so happy that we included the extra funding to upgrade training facilities for officers and current and new hires to receive de-escalation training,” Payne said.
“It’s been a long time coming and I honestly think this piece of legislation could serve as a model for other states to use as well. I think it will be a really good solution for what our country and state has gone through with people standing up and demanding some reform.”
He added that the bill is “almost like a work of art; you don’t see legislative bodies work like this to come up with solutions for real problems.”
Clere said that after the vote the House speaker asked bill author Steurwald and Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-98, to stand up and be recognized. They received a standing ovation from their colleagues.
“At a time when there’s so much wrong with politics and government, it was a really beautiful uplifting moment to see,” Clere said, adding that he believes the support “certainly sends a very strong message. And, I hope the legislation is well-received in the senate and makes it to the governor’s desk in its current form or something very, very close.
“You see everything that’s been happing in Washington and in the streets — the protests last summer that gave rise to this every important discussion. I think that because of this legislation, Indiana will be a national leader on these issues.”