Lawmakers call on Republican leadership to take up police-community legislation

‘We could have these bills on the governor’s desk by the end of next week if their leadership had the will’

PITTSBURGH, June 4 – Pointing to the marathon legislative sessions Pennsylvania House Republicans held in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive actions regarding the coronavirus, several Pittsburgh-area lawmakers urged House leadership to address numerous law enforcement reform bills that have been languishing in House committees and to add session days if necessary.

“Earlier this week House Republicans canceled two weeks of legislative session this month, this after running several months’ worth of marathon sessions to pass legislation that they knew was destined to be vetoed,” said state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, and author of several reform bills. “In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, those same legislative leaders have issued press releases expressing their desire to heal our nation and seek justice – well, now is their opportunity to show that actions speak louder than words.”

Earlier this year Lee and other legislators introduced a bevy of bills aimed at streamlining police procedures and improving police-community relations. The legislative package features multiple bills and resolutions, including legislation that would:

  • Modify definitions in statute for the use of deadly force.
  • Reform interdepartmental police hiring by requiring law enforcement agencies to keep detailed personnel records surrounding an officer leaving a job.
  • Appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any incident of deadly use of force involving a law enforcement officer.
  • Reform the certification and decertification process for police officers.
  • Address arbitration regarding matters of discipline for police.

“We have been here before, and, unless we act, we will be here again,” said Rep. Ed Gainey. “Back in April we stood in the state Capitol with the family of Antwon Rose, community members, and lawmakers from across this state calling for action as we introduced legislation to help heal our communities. Since then the majority party hasn’t even held a committee hearing on our bills, yet over the last several weeks we’ve show how fast we can move legislation – we could have these bills on the governor’s desk by the end of next week if their leadership had the will.”

As vigils, rallies and protests continue across the nation and state – in communities large and small, urban, and rural – now is the time for the legislature to act, said state Rep. Jake Wheatley.

“We’ve heard a lot over the last several weeks about how quickly the legislature was able to respond to the coronavirus. Well, this is our coronavirus. Our communities are, and have been, in a crisis,” said Wheatley. “We are hurting and have been hurting for decades. We cannot sit back and allow the status quo to continue – we must respond, and our package of bills is a good place to start.”

The lawmakers also quickly pointed out their legislation was not anti-police, but rather seeks to address some of the underlying issues that continue to cause conflicts between members of law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect. Further, they said these bills are but a starting point to address the systemic issues that exacerbate inequity in communities across the state.

“The murder of George Floyd is yet another extremely painful reminder of just how far our country still has to go to live out its creed that; ‘All men are created equal,’” said state Rep. Austin Davis. “Every day we live with the consequences of slavery and racism in our society, and it has been institutionalized in our criminal justice system, healthcare system, our schools, and our economy. It is time – past time – we took action to begin to address this.”