Maryland Enacts Historic Police Reforms, Overriding Governor’s Vetoes

Crime scene police tape

Despite GOP Gov. Larry Hogan’s attempts to block the measures, Maryland has become the first U.S. state to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

Maryland on Saturday became the first state in the nation to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights after the state’s Democratic-majority legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes of three historic police accountability bills. 

Hogan announced Friday that he was vetoing the three bills — part of a package of five police reform measures passed by state lawmakers earlier in the week. The governor said he would allow two of the bills to become law without his signature but said the others would “further erode police morale, community relationships and public confidence.”

But Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate, vowed to override Hogan’s vetoes — a promise they promptly fulfilled, with lawmakers gathering Friday night and Saturday to make it happen.

One of Hogan’s vetoes had been for a bill repealing and replacing the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), which governs the disciplinary process for police officers. Critics have labeled LEOBR an “impediment” to police accountability. A new procedure to discipline officers found guilty of wrongdoing — one that will involve the input of the police departments and civilians — will now replace the bill of rights. Currently, at least 20 states have versions of a police officers’ bill of rights.

The bills enacted Saturday include several other police accountability measures, such as a statewide use-of-force policy, an expansion of public access to some police disciplinary records, harsher penalties for cases involving excessive use of force, new limits on no-knock warrants and a statewide body-camera mandate.

Additionally, the two pieces of legislation Hogan chose not to veto include one that gives Baltimore voters the opportunity to decide whether the city should take full control of the Baltimore Police Department, which has been a state agency since 1860.

The other bill allowed by Hogan prohibits police departments from acquiring surplus military equipment and creates an independent unit in the state attorney general’s office to investigate deaths involving police.

Democratic lawmakers in Maryland ― a state that’s faced scrutiny in recent years for its police accountability issues ― hailed the set of police reforms as “transformative” and a step toward “equality.”  

Bill Ferguson, president of the state Senate, called it “one of the most significant and transformative packages of reform of law enforcement in the country, and certainly, what matters more, in the history of Maryland,” The Washington Post reported

On Friday, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) pushed back against the assertion made by some Republican lawmakers that the bills are “anti-cop.”

“This is not anti-police legislation. This is equality and fairness legislation,” Atterbeary said, adding: “This was painstakingly put together for Black and brown folks in our state. It’s time for police officers who don’t follow the proper law to pay the consequences.” 

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Tishaura Jones elected St Louis’s first black female mayor

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Jones, who is currently the city treasurer, said: ‘we’ve begun breaking down the historic racial barriers’ in the city

Tishaura Jones has been elected as the next mayor of St Louis, Missouri, making history as the first Black woman to hold the city’s top position.

“This campaign can unequivocally say that we’ve begun breaking down the historic racial barriers and the racial divides that exist, and have existed for generations in our city,” Jones said on Tuesday night, adding that she “will not stay silent” in the face of “any injustice”.

“As a city, we’ve been surviving. We’ve suffered disinvestments, decades of violence, broken promises from our city’s leaders, who have bowed to the will of special interests and insider dealings,” she said. “It’s time for St Louis to thrive.”

Jones, who currently holds the position of treasurer in St Louis, defeated Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who conceded the race on Tuesday night. The final vote tally between the two women was Jones with 52% against Spencer with 48%.

Jones told St Louis Public Radio it felt amazing to win. “I’m ready to get to work and usher in St Louis’s new era,” she said.

In her concession speech, Spencer praised Jones and spotlighted the historic nature of the election result.

“This is something we should all celebrate,” Spencer said. “Our city broke a glass ceiling tonight, a ceiling that shouldn’t have been there.”

Spencer also promised, while surrounded by supporters at her watch party outside the Mahler Ballroom, to work with Jones to help solve city issues.

“I’m proud to be a citizen of St Louis tonight,” Spencer said. “The treasurer was my opponent but she is not my enemy. The people of St Louis have spoken, and I pledge my support to Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones to move our city forward.”

Others, including the Democratic National Committee chair, Jaime Harrison, chimed in to congratulate Jones on her win, calling it a “great & historic achievement” on Twitter.

There is considerable work to be done in the way of governing the midwestern city of 300,000 residents known as the “gateway of the west”, and eyes will be on Jones as she sets about tackling problems.

The city remains in a struggle to regain its economic footing, particularly after the shutdowns caused by Covid-19.

It’s a considerable challenge in a city that has lost more than 556,000 residents since 1950, when population peaked. The St Louis economy has been historically tied to industrial manufacturing and is famous for being the headquarters for Anheuser-Busch. It ranks 13th among US cities with concentrations of Fortune 500 companies.

While new industries such as healthcare biotechnology are emerging, average hourly wages have lagged behind those of the broader US. According to 2019 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, St Louis residents earn 84 cents less across industries than the national average.

That includes cooks, who earn almost $1 less than what they average nationwide, and are particularly vulnerable as downtown restaurants try to reopen and get back to normal operations.

Violence, particularly killings, also remains a critical problem. According to police statistics, 262 people were killed in St Louis last year, at a per-capita rate 30% higher than any year going back to 1950. So far in 2021, 46 killings had been recorded through 6 April, exceeding the high pace of 2020 by 10 deaths.

As a candidate, Jones’s platform included spurring small business innovation, driving sustainable and equitable investment in the local economy, and unification efforts between communities and St Louis police.

“Our city stands at a crossroads. Every day, we are haunted by the ghosts of our past, by centuries-old problems, and every day, it seems like we attempt the same tired solutions. Today I am asking you to dream bigger,” Jones says on her campaign website.

There appears to be momentum for Black women to be given power to create such changes. Last year in Ferguson, Missouri, just 10 miles from St Louis, Etta Jones was elected as the first Black and first female mayor.

In a statement on her campaign site, Jones said confronting St Louis’s “extraordinary challenges” with enthusiasm, optimism and grace, would present opportunity. She has pledged to recruit more counselors for substance abuse and mental health, as well as social workers.

Jones also was highly critical of law enforcement tactics in the city as a candidate.

“St Louis, this is an opportunity for us to rise,” she said in her victory speech. “I told you when I was running that we are done avoiding tough conversations. We are done ignoring the racism that has held our city and our region back.”

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John Boehner Says Trump ‘Incited That Bloody Insurrection’ At The U.S. Capitol

“I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared for what came after the election,” the former House speaker writes in his new memoir.

Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner blasts Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in his forthcoming memoir, saying the former president is directly responsible for the incident, which left five people dead and more than 140 Capitol Police officers injured.

In an excerpt obtained by The New York Times, Boehner says that Trump “incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons, perpetuated by the bullshit he’d been shoveling since he lost a fair election the previous November.”

The Ohio Republican, who left the House in 2015 after increased fights with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, also suggests that Trump was an actual terrorist.  

“The legislative terrorism that I’d witnessed as speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism,” Boehner writes in the book, which is entitled “On the House: A Washington Memoir” and is due out later this month.

“I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared for what came after the election — Trump refusing to accept the results and stoking the flames of conspiracy that turned into violence in the seat of our democracy, the building over which I once presided,” he adds. 

Elsewhere in the colorful book, Boehner rips Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as “a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else” and Fox News host Sean Hannity as a “nut.”

Boehner mostly laid low in Washington after leaving office, taking up a job as a lobbyist for a cannabis group. He was quiet during the last months of Trump’s presidency, speaking out only after the Capitol insurrection — and without criticizing Trump by name. 

But that seems to be the rule in D.C. for politicians-turned-authors: Save the juiciest bits for your book.

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Atlanta Mayor Signs Order Meant To Fight Georgia’s Voting Restrictions

The order by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms includes actions to mitigate the effect of Georgia’s racist new law that significantly rolls back voting access.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Tuesday meant to expand voting access in response to Georgia’s racist new vote restrictions.

The mayor’s order directs Atlanta’s chief equity officer to develop and implement a plan within the city’s authority to mitigate the effect of the state law, known as SB 202, that’s brought nationwide condemnation for significantly rolling back voting access and information, specifically in Black and brown communities.

“The voting restrictions of SB 202 will disproportionately impact Atlanta residents ― particularly in communities of color and other minority groups,” Bottoms said in a statement. “This Administrative Order is designed to do what those in the majority of the state legislature did not ― expand access to our right to vote.”

Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia’s GOP-controlled state legislature passed the law just weeks ago, implementing a wave of election rules that appear to target the very voters who contributed to record turnout on Election Day and in January’s special elections for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats, which turned the state blue.

The law attempts to block such a result from happening again by basing the changes on the false guise of voter fraud that didn’t actually occur. The legislation reduces the time when voters can request absentee ballots, implements new photo ID requirements and criminalizes giving food and water to voters waiting in line at precincts.

The city’s proposals include training staff on how to educate residents on voter registration and early, absentee and in-person voting. The city will also work to make sure Atlantans know how to obtain the ID forms now required for absentee voting. 

City departments will also include QR codes or website links in mailings such as water bills to provide links to voter registration and absentee ballot information. The hope, according to Bottoms, is that any city staff member will be able to give important voting information to Atlanta residents.

“We’re also going to have to really continue to educate and encourage people to stand in the gap for voters across this state who may not have the ability to cast a vote, meaning we can’t go and vote for the president and then wait an additional four years,” Bottoms told Axios Re:cap on Tuesday, adding that Georgia’s situation is a “cautionary tale to other cities and states.”

“We’ve got to show up each and every time in record numbers because there will be some people who won’t have access to their absentee ballots, who won’t be able to turn their ballots in on time,” the mayor added. “We’ve got to stand in the gap for those folks and make a difference in this state.”

“Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected,” Bottoms tweeted Friday. “Unfortunately, the removal of the @MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.”

In her executive order, Bottoms stressed that she wants to work with corporate and community partners to create and implement public service announcements, as well as other forms of communication, to provide clarity to Atlanta residents on new voting deadlines and timelines.

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Pressure mounts on corporations to denounce GOP voting bills

Virginia’s bill protecting and expanding access to voting comes at a time when Republican legislatures across the country have been seeking to erect new barriers to the ballot box.

Liberal activists are stepping up calls for corporate America to denounce Republican efforts to tighten state voting laws, and businesses accustomed to cozy political relationships now find themselves in the middle of a growing partisan fight over voting rights. 

Pressure is mounting on leading companies in Texas, Arizona and other states, particularly after Major League Baseball’s decision Friday to move the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta. A joint statement from executives at nearly 200 companies, including HP, Microsoft, PayPal, Target, Twitter, Uber and Under Armour, took aim at state legislation “threatening to make voting more difficult" and said “elections are not improved” when lawmakers impose new barriers to voting.

The outcry comes a week after Georgia Republicans enacted an overhaul of the state's election law that critics argue is an attempt to suppress Democratic votes. 

Other companies have, somewhat belatedly, joined the chorus of critics. 

Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Co., two of Georgia’s best-known brands, this past week called the new law “unacceptable," although they had a hand in writing it. That only angered Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp and several U.S. senators, who accused the companies of cowering from unwarranted attacks from the left.

The fight has thrust corporate America into a place it often tries to avoid — the center of a partisan political fight. But under threat of boycott and bad publicity, business leaders are showing a new willingness to enter the fray on an issue not directly related to their bottom line, even if it means alienating Republican allies. 

“We want to hold corporations accountable for how they show up when voting rights are under attack,” said Marc Banks, an NAACP spokesman. “Corporations have a part to play, because when they do show up and speak, people listen.” 

Kemp said at a news conference Saturday that baseball “caved to fear and lies from liberal activists” and moving the game means ”cancel culture” is coming for American businesses. Kemp said state leaders worked in good faith with leaders in the business community on the legislation, including some of the same companies that have now “flip-flopped on this issue.” He added: “We shouldn’t apologize for making it easy to vote and hard to cheat."

Civil rights groups have sued to block the new Georgia law, which was passed after Democrats flipped the once-reliably Republican state in an election that Donald Trump falsely claimed was rife with fraud. Some activists have called for consumer boycotts of Delta, Coca-Cola and others. They dismiss business leaders’ assertions that they helped water down the bill to ease earlier, more restrictive proposals; those leaders, they argue, should have tried to block the plan altogether.

In Texas, the NAACP, League of Women Voters and League of United Latin American Citizens, among other organizations, are urging corporations in the state to speak out against a slate of Republican-backed voting proposals. “Democracy is good for business,” the campaign says.

Nine organizations took out full-page ads in The Houston Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News, the state’s leading newspapers, urging corporate opposition to the plan. The Texas proposal would limit some early voting hours, bar counties from setting up drive-thru voting and prohibit local officials from proactively sending applications for mail ballots before voters request them.

Unlike their Georgia-based counterparts, American Airlines and Dell Technologies didn’t wait for the Texas measure to pass. “To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it,” American said in a statement.

Arizona, which Biden flipped from Trump in November, hasn’t seen high-profile corporate players engage yet. But 30-plus groups sent a joint letter to Allstate Insurance, CVS Health and Farmers’ Insurance, among others, urging their public opposition to proposed voting restrictions. Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, a progressive group that signed the letter, said there's been no response yet. 

Other groups are demanding that corporations focus on Washington, where congressional Democrats are pushing measures intended to make it easier for Americans to vote, regardless of state laws. Among the changes, Democrats would enact automatic voter registration nationally and standardize access to early and mail voting.

Democrats also want to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that require the federal government to approve all election procedures in states and locales with a history of discrimination. The Supreme Court struck down those provisions, which applied to Georgia and Arizona, among other states, in 2013.

Corporate giants were mostly quiet when Trump falsely claimed he lost because of fraud. Business leaders largely maintained that caution as Republican state lawmakers used Trump's lie to justify a flood of new bills to make it more cumbersome to vote.

The reticence was a stark contrast to how chambers of commerce reacted six years ago when Republican-run states pushed “religious freedom” measures. Indiana, under then-Gov. Mike Pence, the future vice president, saw immediate corporate backlash. After North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” limiting LGBTQ rights in 2016, PayPal scuttled expansion plans there and the NBA moved its all-star game from Charlotte. An AP analysis in 2017 found the reaction would eventually cost North Carolina at least $3.76 billion in lost business.

Then, Georgia’s corporate lobbying groups — with Delta’s and Coca-Cola’s backing — took no such chances, speaking out forcefully against Georgia conservatives' version of a “religious freedom” bill. Lawmakers passed it anyway but Kemp’s predecessor, Republican Nathan Deal, vetoed it amid the chamber outcry

Today, Delta and Coca-Cola's response to the Georgia voting fight is standing as a cautionary tale for other businesses. 

Ed Bastian, the airline’s chief executive, initially released a statement noting the business lobby’s role in altering the bill as it moved through the General Assembly. Officials at the Atlanta Metro Chamber, where Bastian currently serves as president, detailed how corporate lobbyists spent weeks at the Capitol on mitigating provisions.

Some Georgia Republicans wanted to roll back the state’s no-excuse absentee voting law, end automatic voter registration and ban Sunday early voting used heavily by Black churches. They also wanted to require photocopies of state IDs to receive and submit absentee ballots, while banning “drop boxes” as ballot collection receptacles.

The final law preserved no-excuse absentee voting and automatic registration. The new ID requirement for absentee ballots allows a voter to write their state ID number, rather than produce a photocopy, and the legislature included funding for free state IDs. The law also codifies in-person early voting on weekends, although it allows counties to choose whether to be open for voting for up to two Sundays. And it made drop boxes of mail ballots a permanent fixture in Georgia, but limited the number. 

Business leaders’ philosophy, according to Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, was “basically, Republicans are going to pass something, so they might as well try to keep from being awful.” 

But by Wednesday, the same day 72 Black business executives published a letter in The New York Times urging corporate leaders to speak out, Bastian was more direct. He sent a companywide memo declaring the law “unacceptable” and “based on a lie” — though he didn’t mention Trump. 

Big business’s mistake, Jordan said, was “thinking there was ever any version that wouldn’t end up like this.”

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