HARTFORD, CT — Business in the House stalled Saturday for about a half hour as House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter met behind closed doors with 19 members of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus.
When they emerged, none of the members of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus were willing to discuss what had transpired.
However, there are a handful of bills left on the agenda that the caucus is hoping to get passed as the legislative session comes to an end.
One of the priority bills for the group is being negotiated by Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven.
The bill, “An Act Concerning Police Misconduct,” seeks to hold police officers responsible for using excessive or deadly force.
On Saturday, Aresimowicz said that the legislation would be called today.
Watered-down from its initial version, which would have suspended officers without pay and also required a preliminary investigation to be done in 15 days, the new version of the bill scraps language regarding the status of the officer’s employment and gives the Division of Criminal Justice 40 days to report the name, race, gender, ethnicity, and age of the deceased. It also requires the date, time, and location of the death, law enforcement agencies involved, a toxicity report, and a death certificate.
Current law requires that the Division of Criminal Justice to investigate all such deaths, but does not require a time frame.
Porter has said this is not an attack on police officers, but that she rather believes some of the issues stem from a lack of adequate training. In order to address the lack of training, the new amendment removes the language regarding unpaid leave for officers under investigation following a shooting and adds language to improve training for police officers.
On Saturday night she declined comment on the legislation.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill. He said the bill has been changed significantly from its original version in order to help win support.
“I’m very pleased that with the changes that have been made we are seeing increased support both from within and outside the chamber,” Tercyak said Saturday. “It seems a lot people are much more comfortable with the bill now.”
Along with creating a time frame for investigating the use of deadly force, the bill also says that police can’t use deadly force upon another person in a motor vehicle “if such police officer reasonably believes that he or she can avoid using deadly force by attempting to retreat from the path of the motor vehicle or the deadly force.”
It goes onto say that “no police officer shall discharge his or her firearm at a motor vehicle to merely disable such motor vehicle.”
John Szewczyk, president of the Hartford Police Union, said they are still opposed to the legislation.
Szewczyk, who was at the Capitol Saturday lobbying against the bill, said there have been a few changes to the bill, but nothing that would get him to change his position on the legislation.
Porter has been trying to work on a compromise, but Szewczyk said little if any compromise has been offered to law enforcement.
He said after reading what happened in London Saturday, he doesn’t understand how lawmakers will try and prevent officers from using their firearms to stop a motor vehicle.
“It’s still an anti-police bill,” Szewczyk said.
However, when they were drafting the legislation lawmakers were not thinking in terms of terrorism. They were thinking about incidents both in Connecticut and in other states where officers have killed minorities during motor vehicle stops.
They may have been thinking about Philando Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker in Minnesota who was shot with his girlfriend and daughter in the car after telling the officer he had a gun. Authorities later found that Castile had a permit to carry.
Or, closer to home, there’s the case of Jayson Negron, 15, of Bridgeport.
Last month, Negron was accused by police of being at the wheel of a stolen vehicle and nearly running over an officer before being shot and killed on Fairfield Avenue.
Negron is a related to Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, who is currently the chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
At a press conference last month on the bill, Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said they were calling on leadership to move the legislation.
What the lack of action on this issue tells him is Connecticut’s “legislature just simply does not hear black and brown folks in this state.”
If the entire caucus walked out Monday, then Democrats would no longer have a working majority in the House and power would shift to Republicans. At that point, it’s likely all business would cease.
Complicating matters even further is a Republican amendment that would require the state to share information with the Department of Homeland Security.
The Republican amendment filed by Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, and Rep. Kevin Skulczyk, R-Griswold, seeks to eliminate the protections many cities like New Haven have offered their residents by preventing law enforcement from cooperating with officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.