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Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, right, is consoled by Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, after the vote. James wept after hearing the vote outcome as the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee took up police reform with HB51 Wednesday June 17, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The measure failed on a vote of 7-9.

Despite angry comments at the end of the debate, the Louisiana House on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to study police practices statewide and all but guaranteed final approval of the proposal.

The vote was 99-0, returning the measure to the state Senate for consideration of the changes.

The Senate earlier approved a similar version of the proposal 34-0.

Most of the House discussion was tame after private talks earlier in the day among Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, House sponsor, House Majority Leader Blake Miguez, R-Erath and others.

Both sides agreed to remove an earlier sticking point – references in the resolution to George Floyd, the Black man in Minneapolis who died last month after a White police officer held him on the ground with his knee on his neck for nearly eight minutes. 

But the placid discussion turned angry in the suddenly hushed House when state Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville cited statistics that he said show far more White people than Black people die at the hands of police officers, and that police officers die at much higher rates than both White and Black citizens.

"If we are going to have the conversation let's make sure we are going to have the conversation," Bacala told the House. "Let's not limit what we are going to speak about."

A visibly agitated James then responded that backers of the resolution agreed before the debate not to go into details of their complaints. "But since we are here I ain't going to run from it," he said.

"If we wanted to fully have the conversation we shouldn't have watered down the bill," James said, a reference to the removal of the George Floyd language and another line that said Black men are three times more likely than White men to be killed by police.

He said the resolution "could have had five pages of names" of Black people killed by police.

James also said he has been pepper sprayed by a White police officer while handcuffed and was quizzed by police when he was simply standing outside a barber shop on Nicholson Avenue with four other Black men.

"I didn't want to do this," James said. "And I agreed not to do this. But since there is an ask to talk about the entire issue let's talk about the entire issue."

He said it is not uncommon for police officers to land a "taxpayer funded vacation" after they are involved in shootings involving Black citizens.

Earlier in the special session language citing Floyd's death was stripped from a separate proposal by James in committee, and he later shelved the measure in favor of the Senate-passed resolution by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge.

On Wednesday the Floyd citation was removed as part of what James called an effort to craft language "that everyone is comfortable with."

After the vote Bacala, a retired sheriff's deputy, told the House he was not a party to private talks on the legislation earlier in the day. "Rep. James, if you are offended by the comments I apologize. But I was not made aware that we were not allowed to extend the dissertation on this matter," he said.

The legislation would set up a 25-member task force that would launch hearings no later than Aug. 15 and make recommendations to the Legislature.

The panel would be called the Police Training, Screening and De-escalation Task Force.

Issues for study would include racial bias recognition, misconduct, use of force and "identifying and eliminating bad actors."

Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, praised the resolution and noted that support crossed both party and racial lines.

Fields, chief sponsor of the study group, has said the task force is a forerunner to a bill he will file later this year or in 2021 to revamp police departments, including a requirement that police officers undergo psychological analysis, a ban on the use of choke-holds and linking police pay hikes to how departments perform.

The task force includes state lawmakers, peace officers, criminal justice and social worker professors from LSU and Southern, the president of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association and college students.

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