AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 70 civil rights and social justice groups rallied Thursday in support of the George Floyd Act outside the Texas Capitol.
Texas lawmakers heard testimony for House Bill 88 on Thursday, filed by House Democrats.
If passed, the George Floyd Act would ban chokeholds by police officers, end arrests on Class C misdemeanors that typically are fine-only and non-jailable, create a duty to intervene, render aid and identify while eliminating a duty to arrest on minor charges and remove qualified immunity.
It’s one of the most-watched bills this session, and that interest was evident in the crowd at the rally, and those who came to testify. The hearing lasted several hours, going well into the evening.
“We’re here today fighting for the George Floyd Act to make sure that we are not losing another Black life to politics, to white supremacy and to also archaic laws that protect the officers, not just the communities they’re serving,” Jamarr Brown with Black Austin Democrats said at the rally.
“It’s not just Black people that are advocating for this. There’s white folks, there are brown folks, because all of our communities have been harmed in negative ways by the police. And that’s why we’re seeing that sign of unity across the state,” Brown added.
Rep. James Talarico, one of the Democratic co-authors of the bill, said the police reforms included in the bill are common-sense legislation.
“Dealing with things like qualified immunity, certain tactics that police officers use,” Talarico said.
Inside the hearing, lawmakers heard testimony from lawmakers, some of the same community activists that were at the rally and George Floyd’s friend, Travis Cains.
“Let’s stop these public lynchings,” Cains said. “I didn’t see my little brother die… I saw him get murdered.”
Even with emotional stories though, the bill has become a partisan issue.
“I’m a big supporter of certainly fairness, but I think that our police officers and law enforcement officers have have been unfairly targeted through this discussion,” Republican State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham said Thursday.
Other House and Senate Republicans showed hesitation after law enforcement agencies raised alarms during the hearing, too.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas testified against the bill, criticizing the text for not including any real training for officers that could enact change.
But another group, the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said it only had a problem with one section of the bill.
“We support the creation of a best-practice model regarding use of force, it’s my personal and professional opinion that every agency operating in the state of Texas should absolutely have a use-of-force policy. We also support the inclusion of a duty to intervene. We also fully support the inclusion of de-escalation throughout police encounters,” President of the TPCA Chief Stan Standridge testified. “We even support corroborated testimony, because professional agencies are already doing this.”
The one section they disagree with: removing qualified immunity.
“Qualified immunity allows [officers] to respond to incidents without pause, make critical, split-second decisions and rely heavily on facts or circumstances that are often still developing upon arrival,” Stanridge said, adding removing this legal protection could lead to a mass exodus of thousands of officers across the state.
But, he reiterated his support for other sections of the bill and said this session is the time for reform.
“Now is the time to make substantive change. We just need to be careful stewards of said change,” Stanridge said.
Talarico is hopeful his cohorts across the aisle are able to make agreeable amendments to the bill so it can make it to the governor’s desk to become law.
“I always hold out hope that our colleagues will see the light and will do the right thing. And I never, I never, you know, I never give up on that hope,” Talarico said.