Senate Bill 2 is a direct response to the reforms demanded during the racial justice uprisings of 2020 and for many years prior. This legislation would amend the 1987 Bane Act by addressing a) police officers having immunity from abuses committed while operating as a representative of law enforcement b) and preventing police officers who have committed serious acts of misconduct from being employed by other police departments in California. S.B. 2 was introduced in December of 2020 by Senator Bradford (D-Los Angeles) and was co-authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). It has since gained immense support from the California State Senate and Assembly, most notably the California Legislative Black Caucus.
S.B. 2 passed the Senate in May of 2021 and the Assembly in September of 2021. It was then signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 30, 2021.
Breaking Down S.B. 2
At the core of S.B. 2 is ending “qualified immunity,” a legal principle that grants government officials immunity from civil suits unless the person injured can prove that the official violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. In the case of law enforcement, victims have found it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to win such cases in courts, causing incredible frustration that has manifested into protests across the country. S.B. 2 eliminates certain immunity provisions peace officers and custodial officers hold, as well as the public entities that employ them when sued under the act. It broadens the Bane Act by removing the requirement of proving “intent” when arguing violations. The legislation represents the opportunity for justice for victims of police abuses of power. California will be the fourth state to end or significantly limit qualified immunity for police officers, joining Colorado, New Mexico, and Connecticut. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 1280) would eliminate qualified immunity at the federal level – H.R. 1280 passed the House of Representatives in February of 2021 but has stalled in the Senate.
The second component of Senate Bill 2 is the creation of a statewide decertification process for police officers. Central to the process would be the ability to revoke the license of police officers who have committed serious acts of misconduct. California is among only four states that cannot revoke a police officer’s certification. Current law allows police officers that have been fired or who have resigned for offenses including excessive force, sexual misconduct, and dishonesty to remain in law enforcement by simply moving to another department in another community. Often these officers become serial offenders and create an unsafe environment for the citizens they are sworn to protect. S.B. 2 would prevent these officers from putting communities at risk while acting in the role of a public servant. CalMatters classifies this certification as “professionalizing” law enforcement and cites that over 200 professions require certification. You can access the full CalMatters article here.
Support & Opposition
S.B. 2 has gained significantsupport throughout the legislative process and has experienced very little opposition. The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) is the most significant opposing group focused on the “ending of qualified immunity” section of the bill. The opposition argues that the existing Bane Act provisions adequately address concerns regarding civil rights violations. They state that making it easier to prove these violations would create unfair liability to the party accused, opening the door for vast financial implications for governmental entities.
Criminal justice reform, civil rights, and racial equity are major policy priorities for SCG’s members and partners. After the racial justice uprisings last summer, funders mobilized to support the movement leaders and communities demanding law enforcement reform and an end to institutional violence. For this reason, the SCG Public Policy team will actively monitor and educate members about the implementation of S.B. 2, in addition to the progress of other related bills, including the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the progress of Measure J – Care First Community Investment. Long-term investment in policies that address institutional and structural change is crucial to widespread systemic change. S.B. 2 highlights the importance of accountability, data collection, and transparency, which are critical in combating racial and other inequities within our state and bringing attention to a demand inspired by community need. If members are interested in getting involved in issues around racial justice, criminal reform, or systemic change, please reach out to the SCG Public Policy team.