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Police required to use minimum force under bill passed by Senate

CARSON CITY — Touching on two of 2020’s biggest domestic issues, the Senate passed bills Wednesday that would reform the rules for police use of force and earmark federal pandemic aid for enhanced summer school to help students catch up from last year’s learning losses stemming from school closures.

The use of force bill, Senate Bill 212, passed on a 12-9 partisan split, with Republicans opposed. The vote on the summer school bill, Senate Bill 173, dubbed the Back on Track Act, was unanimous.

The votes came as both the Senate and the Assembly ramped up activity on bills that survived last week’s deadline for passing out of their initial committee referrals. The Friday deadline culled 284 pieces of legislation, with hundreds remaining.

The use of force bill, part of legislative Democrats’ policing reforms, reflects concern arising from incidents last year in which interactions between police and the public turned violent or deadly, such as the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. The murder trial of the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck is ongoing.

Closer to home, protests in Las Vegas and elsewhere in Nevada turned violent in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. A police officer was shot and paralyzed during a June 1 protest by a man who said he was trying to scare off Black Lives Matter activists. Another man was shot dead by police in a separate incident that occurred 3 miles away at almost the same time.

The bill would require police officers to be more judicious and deliberate in deciding when to employ force. It would prevent the use of restraint chairs by police, prohibit them from firing rubber bullets indiscriminately into a rioting crowd or at a person’s head, spine or pelvis, and require them to give warnings and orders to disperse before discharging tear gas.

Officers also would have to focus on de-escalation before resorting to force and use as little force as possible. Police agencies would also have to adopt use of force policies and report data to the state. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas.

Supporters said the changes would improve relations and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they police. Opposition came from senators who saw the legislation as tying the hands of law enforcement officers.

“I think the overall concept behind it is flawed — that somehow these protests in Las Vegas were the fault of the police,” said Sen. Ira Hansen, R-Sparks.

Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, a Clark County prosecutor, said the bill “perfectly hits on the places that it’s necessary to have reform without imposing on the ability of an officer to utilize their good judgment and their training to effectuate their jobs adequately.”

The bill moves to the Assembly, as does the enhanced summer school bill. It would allow districts and the public charter school authority to draw on pandemic assistance for enhanced summer programs this year. The programs need to focus on at-risk students, such as those with financial need, high school juniors and seniors behind on credits, pre-K and kindergarten students, elementary students struggling with math and reading, students with special needs, and students with chronic absenteeism.

In a statement after the bill’s passage, Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop, the main sponsor, said the measure “will allow students across the state to take advantage of summer school at no cost to their parents in order to mitigate long term implications for our students’ educational development.”

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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