HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The State Senate is voted on a series of bills Tuesday that cover everything from absentee ballots to insulin costs. But the most controversial appears to be a bill to tackle police accountability in the wake of national protests.
Representatives in the House voted to pass the police accountability bill 86-58-seven last week.
The bill attempts to tackle police reform in the wake of national uprisings. It creates an Inspector General to investigate police brutality cases. It strengthens civilian oversight of police, mandates body cameras, bans chokeholds, and requires mental health screenings for officers.
In the House, a Republican amendment almost stripped the bill of one of the most controversial parts – qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity protects law enforcement from legal action if people feel those officers have infringed on their rights during interactions with those officers or law enforcement officials. The bill changes qualified immunity by allowing citizens to sue people when their civil rights are violated.
State reps vote ended in a tie, 72 – 72, with seven representatives absent from the vote. In this case, the amendment fails on a tie. If it had passed, removal of qualified immunity from the bill would have meant police would have retained that immunity even if the police reform bill passes. However, repealing qualified immunity is still in the bill.
One lone Republican, Jesse MacLachlan from Westbrook, voted with Democrats to keep that controversial part of the bill.
Joe Aresimowicz (D) Berlin said, “This is not anti-law enforcement but we cannot have any more of our children in this state, nationwide, to be honest, killed in the way we’ve seen and murdered in the way we’ve seen around the country.”
Republican leaders are disappointed it was not removed.
“Once qualified immunity starts to get knocked away at, which this starts, there should be no cop that feels safe going on the road, going to work without his own insurance,” Themis Klarides (R) Derby said. “These police officers are paid $70,000–$80,000, they’re raising families on that amount of money. They’re putting their lives on the line every day. We should be helping them.”
The qualified immunity piece would not go into effect until July 1, 2021.
Another section of the bill we are following is a new position that would investigate police-involved incidents; the Inspector General. The way the bill is written, the legislature would approve the appointment. In an exclusive interview, the Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo told News 8’s Jodi Latina he is concerned about the separation of powers in the Consitution is violated the way the bill is written.
Colangelo said, “If there’s an investigation that they start doing we run the risk of an attorney whose representing an officer-involved in that investigation, ‘hey you are not here correctly, you’re not constitutionally appointed, I’m not going to participate,’ and then it weakens that office and everything that the person is going to do. Those are the types of things I want to make sure we don’t have to deal with. Let’s get it done correctly.”
It is unclear whether the Attorney General will take a deep dive into the issue after Tuesday. He has said he “would be comfortable” defending the bill as written in a court of law. The thought is if this bill passes and this section is found to be unconstitutional, that the legislature can fix it during the September special session.
WEB EXTRA: Expert weighs in on police accountability bill
Another one of the big topics on the table: a bill expanding absentee ballots for the 2020 election includes both the August primary and the November general election. There was a change in the language that the Mail House responsible for sending out ballots to voters will be required to do so within three days. Right now some voters have been waiting.
The absentee ballot bill passed in the House 144 to 2.
The bill also passed in the Senate on Tuesday.
Telehealth and insulin costs were two other top talking points.
A bill to cap the cost of insulin for those who suffer from diabetes was on the agenda. The bill would cap monthly insulin costs at $25 per patient; if passed, this would be the lowest in the country according to State Rep. Sean Scanlon/(D) Branford. Monthly insulin supply costs would be capped at $100 per patient.
The bill was passed in the House 142 to 5 and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. It also passed in the Senate Tuesday.
A bill requiring health insurance companies to cover telehealth visits through March 2021 passed the House unanimously last week and was passed by the Senate Tuesday.