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Floyd killing has prompted state reforms, but not everywhere

Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — George Floyd’s killing last year and the protests that followed led to a wave of police reforms in dozens of states, from changes in use-of-force policies to greater accountability for officers. At the same time, lawmakers in a handful of states have had success addressing racial inequities.

But those changes mask a more complicated legislative legacy to a movement that many hoped would produce generational change: Other states have done little or nothing around police and racial justice reforms, and several have moved in the opposite direction.

In Texas, where Floyd was raised and laid to rest, state Sen. Royce West this year helped introduce the “George Floyd Act” to overhaul policing. But the bill has languished for weeks after getting one hearing, and West, one of the state’s most prominent Black lawmakers, acknowledges it faces long odds in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

“We have members of the Senate that just refuse to pass a bill with his name on it,” he said.

He now hopes to take a different approach in hopes of getting a win — stand-alone bills without Floyd’s name that would make piecemeal changes such as banning police chokeholds.

“You have to ask yourself whether or not you want symbolism over substance,” West said. “And so if you don’t have the votes to pass a bill named after George Floyd, then we got to make certain that we do some single-shot bills.”

Across the country, the murder conviction Tuesday of a white Minneapolis police officer who held a knee to Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes has renewed calls for policing reforms and legislative action to address long-standing racial inequities.

They will test over how far states will go in addressing police brutality and systemic racism in everything from education to health care to housing. Some seized on the verdict to promote legislative action or calls for change.

On Wednesday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, signed a policing bill that will require officers to report any use of force and when they point a weapon at someone. Another GOP governor, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, announced a legislative proposal to boost police oversight. And in Nebraska, the Legislature advanced a bill requiring greater law enforcement accountability and training, especially on how to de-escalate conflicts.

Ahead of the verdict Tuesday, members of California’s Legislative Black Caucus gathered outside the Capitol to highlight police and criminal justice reform bills they hope to advance. Several of the proposals, including the creation of a system to decertify officers accused of misconduct, failed last year.

“The time is now for us to act,” said state Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat who chairs the caucus. “No more kneeling and social media posts — we’ve had enough of the performative acts. Real police reform is needed now.”

Over the past year, at least 36 states have signed into law measures that would reform some police practices, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. The new laws come from at least 1,800 police reform bills filed in statehouses across the U.S. since Floyd’s killing, with the majority being introduced this year.

The proposals include statewide bans on chokeholds, limits on no-knock warrants, ending qualified immunity for officers and restrictions on use of tear gas and other crowd-control techniques.

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