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California Senate Committee Advances Law Enforcement-Backed Use Of Force Bill — But Links It To Its Rival

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) presents her police use of force bill to the California Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

If a police use-of-force bill backed by California law enforcement groups is to pass this year, its fate is now tied to a rival bill that would reform when officers can use deadly force.

The law enforcement-backed bill, SB 230 by Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), originally sought to improve police training while not changing the state’s current legal standard for lethal force.

The rival measure supported by civil rights advocates and community activists, AB 392 by Asm. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), would strengthen that standard from “reasonable” to “necessary.”

On Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee rejected calls from grieving family members to defeat SB 230. Instead, the committee amended the measure so that it can only become law if AB 392 does, as well.

Caballero also agreed to amendments to strip her bill’s use-of-force language, leaving AB 392 as the only measure that would change the standard. She told the committee this avoids a breakdown in negotiations that could have occurred if SB 230 had been shelved.

“I don’t think any of us want it all to disappear,” she said of the use-of-force debate. “I think we want to get some resolution. So, what this does is it keeps everyone at the table, negotiating in good faith, trying to work toward a solution.”

The committee’s chair, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), agreed.

“It creates the opportunity for all of the parties involved to continue to have conversations about this very important subject,” Skinner said, adding that she hopes “we might come to a place where we both have a revised use of force standard and good associated training, so that California can move forward.”

The committee’s actions, spearheaded by Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), are both a symbolic move and clear direction to the two sides to return to the negotiating table after talks broke down in February.

Atkins said in a statement that she’s “grateful to Senator Caballero and Senator Skinner for agreeing to amendments that communicate clearly to everyone our goal: revise California’s use-of-force standard to protect both our communities and our peace officers and also ensure that officers get the training needed to make the change a success.”

Law enforcement groups appear to have accepted the amendments in order to keep both bills alive.

Linking the two bills together “was something that we felt needed to be done in order to have fruitful conversations moving forward,” said Brian Marvel, the president of PORAC, a state federation of local police unions.

Marvel added that he thinks the two sides will reach a deal at some point this year. “Clearly, this is an issue that we want to resolve,” he said.

American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Lizzie Buchen called Tuesday’s amendments “pretty promising.”

“What we’re hoping is that this will result in all parties actually engaging in AB 392,” she said. “Because up until this point, law enforcement has been extremely resistant to coming to the table to discuss this bill.”

While SB 230 has now been linked to AB 392, it’s only a one-direction connection — at least so far.

Skinner declined to say if she thinks the two bills should be linked in both directions, a legislative procedure known as “double-joining.”

The office of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who pulled AB 392 into the Rules Committee earlier this month after it passed the Public Safety Committee to set the stage for negotiations, declined comment when asked if double-joining the bills was under consideration. Weber’s office says it’s reviewing the amendments.

The ACLU’s Buchen said supporters of AB 392 are open to clarifying their bill’s language to address the concerns of law enforcement groups and several Assembly Democrats, who have indicated they’re unwilling to give final approval to the bill in its current form.

Read SB 230 as amended: 

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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