Skelton: How needed police reform bill was quietly killed

It wasn’t good government. But it was probably good politics.

A major police reform bill was quietly killed by the Assembly speaker without a house vote on the last night of the legislative session. He used an ages-old tactic aimed at sparing politically vulnerable lawmakers from casting a perilous vote.

Call it incumbent protection.

The bill would have assured that when a bad cop’s badge is yanked by a police department, he can’t hook on with another law enforcement agency anywhere in California. The measure also would have made it easier for citizens to file civil lawsuits against rogue officers.

There was broad public support for the measure — but heavy opposition from officers’ unions, police chiefs and sheriffs.

So, it wound up the way these things often do: The legislative leader punted.

Just how big a role should politics play in policymaking? There’s no pat answer. But politics and public policy are intertwined.

Here’s what often happens:

A bill generates hefty combat. Perhaps the public overwhelmingly supports the measure. But powerful interests are adamantly opposed.

It’s a no-win dilemma for lawmakers running for reelection in competitive races. Voters could turn against an incumbent who sides with the interests. But if the lawmaker votes against the interests, he could suffer their wrath. Campaign contributions could be cut off and given to an opponent.

If a bill probably isn’t going to survive a house vote anyway, maybe the wisest move is to pull it off the floor. Avoid the agony of taking a public position in a likely losing cause.

That’s a well-worn page from the legislators’ traditional political playbook.

The police reform bill, SB 731 by Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, was a textbook example on the legislative session’s final night, Aug. 31.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood,  concluded the bill didn’t have nearly enough votes to pass his house — it needed a simple majority, 41 — and removed it from consideration.

“It didn’t have the votes — wasn’t even close,” Rendon told me. “I was going to vote for it, but for many it was a tough vote.”

But aren’t legislators paid to cast tough votes? If a bill reaches the floor, shouldn’t it be entitled to a vote?

Bradford certainly thinks so.

“You wouldn’t know whether it had the votes if you’re not willing to take up the bill,” Bradford says. “It’s not uncommon to take up a bill before you have 41 votes. A lot of [house] members might want to hear the floor debate on a controversial bill.”

It’s a fact, however, that debates — no matter how lengthy and passionate — rarely add significantly to vote totals. Occasionally they do. But Bradford would have needed to pick up a bunch of votes — up to 10.

“Did we have 41 identified votes? No,” Bradford says. “But we had potential leanings. We could have worked the floor and gotten 41 votes.”

Well, that was another problem. Because of COVID-19 rules, the senator could not have worked the Assembly floor. Legislators weren’t allowed in the other house’s chamber. That made legislating difficult.

But the biggest obstacle for Bradford’s …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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