Earlier today, the House Judiciary Committee passed Representative Martina White’s controversial Fraternal Order of Police sponsored bill by a unanimous 25-0 vote. There was no time for public input before the bill was sent to the House Floor, and given the current political circumstances surrounding police brutality and officer involved incidents, the bill may most likely sail through the General Assembly with little to no input.
When Representative Martina White introduced the bill at two Fraternal Order or Police press conferences in September and while defending the legislation at today’s hearing, Representative White cited protesters, demonstrations, criminals and recent “anti-police fervor” that has occurred in response to recent high profile incidents as reasons to pass the legislation.
The bill was amended at today’s hearing. If an officer is charged of a crime stemming from an shooting or other use of force, his or her name must be released to the public, but if they are not charged with a crime, their name will be made public through the right-to-know process after the conclusion of the investigation, which can take a few days or a few months after an incident occurs.
According to Andrew Hoover from the American Civil Liberties Union, the bill will a detrimental affect to relations between the police and the communities they serve because “it suggests that the police have something to hide.”
Since the introduction of the bill in September, there been no public hearings on the controversial piece of legislation. Hoover states that “it’s not unusual for a bill to get a vote without a hearing,” and “it’s frustrating when it’s something controversial.” House Republican Spokesperson Stephen Miskin stated that bill was introduced on September 11, and that there’s always opportunity for public input.
Representative White’s legislation is that it sets out to fix a problem that does not exist. At the two FOP affiliated press conferences and today’s hearing, White asserts that those who are angry at police officers from recent controversial shootings and incidents that have killed unarmed civilians are making it dangerous for police officers to do their jobs, but this year has been one of the safest years for police officers in decades.
There is reason for concern with this bill going through the legislative process. The overwhelming amount of legislation that goes through the process in Harrisburg usually passes with zero to little resistance. That’s because a bill is either common sense legislation, naming a bridge or highway after someone or it has widespread support. Something like House Bill 1538 can easily breeze through the legislature because organizations representing police officers are constantly lobbying in the capitol and because of the counter narratives these organizations have established in the face of real reforms or in response to highly scrutinized incidents.