AFSCME Council 93 Statement on Law Enforcement Reform Legislation

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a far-reaching bill aimed at addressing longstanding, deep-rooted racism and bias within our law enforcement system. While we believe the action by the senate was well-intentioned, we also believe the bill that a majority of senators supported is fundamentally flawed.

In particular, we believe the provision in the senate's legislation that eliminates so-called qualified immunity protections were approved too hastily, and without due consideration and study of the likely impact.

We also believe the qualified immunity section of the senate bill that removes this protection for ALL PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS is a drastic and dangerous overreach because it wrongfully puts all public sector workers at risk for lawsuits targeting their personal assets.

Immediately after the bill was released by the Senate Ways and Means Committee without a public hearing, AFSCME Council 93 began analyzing the legislation to determine its impact on our members. When problems with the qualified immunity section of the senate bill were identified and confirmed by our legal team, our legislative team began working with like-minded unions in an attempt to amend the legislation, specifically by supporting an amendment that would require more thoughtful consideration of the attempts to eliminate qualified immunity for all public sector workers.

We worked to build support for an amendment that would provide a committee of legal experts - including a designee from the state's Supreme Court - with up to six months to study the impact of eliminating qualified immunity, and issue expert guidance before the legislature moved forward with passing a law. Unlike some organizations who called for defeating the entire bill, it was our hope and intent to improve the bill rather than defeat it because we believe that we need substantive, permanent change to address this crisis.

Despite the limited time we were forced to work with due to the wrongful rush by the senate to pass this legislation without a public hearing, AFSCME Council 93, along with many other unions, successfully secured the support of 16 state senators including ten Democrats who reached across the aisle to join their Republican colleagues in support of the study amendment. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the amendment fell just a few votes short. CLICK HERE to see how your state senator voted on this amendment.

Moving forward, our efforts are now focused on the House of Representatives where House Speaker Robert DeLeo has pledged to hold a public hearing on any legislation released by the house. It is important to remember that before any bill reaches Governor Baker's desk to be signed in to law, the house and the senate must reach consensus on one single bill. We are already aggressively lobbying house leaders and members to reject the senate's approach to dealing with qualified immunity. And, as we stated in a public statement released on June 17th, we are committed to supporting changes in law and policy aimed at ending this systemic racism, violence and oppression.

However, we are also committed to doing so in a manner that is thoughtful and deliberate, but does NOT place all public-sector workers at risk for frivolous and costly lawsuits, and does NOT sacrifice the union rights of the overwhelming majority of good and decent men and women in law enforcement and corrections.

Most importantly, we will NOT support any measure – including defunding or reducing law enforcement funding - that has the potential to hinder the ability of law enforcement and corrections professionals to adequately protect themselves and the public.