Anti-bias training for police, property tax/School finance bills advance

Sen. Ernie Chambers speaks Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 12, 2020 - 5:35pm

Police and other law enforcement officers would have to take two hours of anti-bias training each year to try and combat racial profiling, under a bill advancing in the Legislature. And a property tax and school funding bill is moving to the full Legislature for consideration. NET News’ Jack Williams interviewed legislative reporter Fred Knapp for this legislative update.

Jack:  Fred, what were lawmakers working on today?

Fred: Well, Jack, as you know, it's Ernie Chambers last session due to term limits unless he sits out for four years and comes back again like he did eight years ago. And they were working on his priority bill for the session this year.

It's a bill that requires two hours a year of training for police officers on anti-bias and implicit bias training. And Senator Chambers said he could have repeated his signature issue which is attempts to repeal the death penalty, but he apparently feels like he doesn't have the votes. So he explained what he is doing.

“Rather than do something that is symbolic and achieves nothing, I'm bringing this bill, which can focus on a problem which even law enforcement people acknowledge,” Chambers said.

Chambers downplayed the significance of his legislation, compared to his previous efforts. He called it a “pee wee” bill.

But Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks took exception to Chambers’ characterization.

“He has described this bill as a ‘peewee bill,’ but it has been brought by the giant in our legislature, and clearly battling implicit bias is not a peewee issue,” Pansing Brooks said.

Jack: So was it all sweetness and light?

Almost. But Sen. Mike Groene, who is a frequent Chambers adversary, asked Chambers about his qualifications.

“Sen. Chambers, how many years have you been on the Judiciary Committee?”  Groene asked.

“All the years of my legislative life --  46 years,” Chambers replied.

“So I'm still contemplating -- do you think you have enough background and training and experience that I should trust that you can come up with an adequate bill for the Judiciary Committee?” Groene continued.

“I certainly hope so. But I'm not able to determine how anybody would react to anything that I do or say,” Chambers answered.

“I'm just pulling your chain,” Groene admitted.

“I know -- that's why I gave such a nice, cordial answer,” Chambers said. Lawmakers then did vote 43-0 to advance the bill -- the first of three rounds of approval it would need.

Jack: What else is going on?

Fred: Well, the Revenue Committee has advanced the property tax and school finance bill that they've been discussing for many months. It basically tries to hold down property taxes or reduce them by increasing state aid schools. It lowers the valuation of the property that schools can tax. That's the mechanism it uses to hold down property taxes. So it's a very complicated bill. It's like 73 pages. There are a lot of moving parts.

Jack: And will it have smooth sailing?

Fred: Probably not. First of all, it didn't get out of the Revenue Committee unanimously. It was a six to two vote. And at the public hearing last month, schools of all different sizes opposed the basic concepts of this bill. It's just been tweaked a little bit. But one of their basic objections is to the spending limitations that it contains. It limits their ability to grow spending to inflation, plus real property growth -- in other words, new construction in the district.

They're afraid that if the Legislature doesn't follow through on the promise of increased state aid in the future, that'll leave them without the ability to finance their schools.

Jack: And what's coming up in the next few days?

Fred: Well, there's some non-controversial things. But then further down on the agenda, there's a bill governing how future death penalty executions would be carried out. It would require two members of the legislature to be present at future executions, and that they'd be able to monitor the procedure continuously.

Last time there was an execution, of Carey Dean Moore, the curtain in the death chamber allowing witnesses to see in there was closed for almost 15 minutes in the middle of the procedure, leading to charges that the execution had been botched, somehow.

Death penalty bills are almost always controversial, and this one is probably not going to be any exception to that.

Jack: Alright, we'll see what happens on that. NET’s Fred Knapp. Thanks for your time today.

Fred: Thank you, Jack.





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