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Sandra Bland's mother urges House committee to pass bill named after her daughter

The Sandra Bland Act would require law enforcement agencies to document the race and ethnicity of drivers they stop, divert some people to treatment instead of jail and require more training and reporting for county jails and law enforcement officials.

Sandra Bland, who was found dead at the Waller County Jail in 2015.

Like many people who testify before lawmakers, Geneva Reed-Veal was a frustrated witness Tuesday.

After dozens of others had chimed in on racial disparities in traffic stops, jail suicides and police training, it finally was her turn to talk about Sandra Bland — not just the hashtag, rallying cry or policy proposal, but Reed-Veal's 28-year-old daughter who died almost two years ago. Reed-Veal was not pleased by the discussion of data and potential costs associated with a sweeping criminal justice reform bill named after her daughter.

"You don't want to be in these shoes," she said. "I'm listening to dollars. I'm listening to data. Your data is Sandra Bland and many of those like her. The cost, the dollars, was her life and many others like her."

Reed-Veal, an Illinois resident, was one of a number of witnesses, a vast majority of whom spoke in support of the Sandra Bland Act, which is pending before the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

The comprehensive legislation's changes include requiring law enforcement agencies to test for profiling by documenting the race and ethnicity of drivers stopped; mandating people experiencing mental health crises and substance abuse be diverted to treatment instead of jail; and creating more de-escalation training for law enforcement personnel and serious incident reporting requirements for county jails.

Bland, a black woman from Illinois, was pulled over in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, by then-Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia after she failed to signal a lane change. When Bland's conversation with Encinia became heated, he arrested her on a charge of assaulting a public servant. She was found dead three days later in the Waller County Jail. Officials ruled her death a suicide.

Bland's death drew criticism in and outside of Texas and helped power the Black Lives Matter movement.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who authored the legislation, led five hearings between legislative sessions on the changes he hopes his bill addresses.

"There's been a lot of discussion, and if we don't move to make change, it doesn't help," said Coleman, chairman of the House County Affairs Committee. "That's the premise of this bill."

Coleman said he had to re-evaluate the first version of the legislation after talking with law enforcement officials. He said that he was not considerate of their perspective when first writing that version.

"We have to step in that person's shoes, just like we ask them to step in our shoes," Coleman said. "If I were rewriting this bill, that's where I would have started."

Under that early version, an officer found to have profiled drivers would have been required to go to counseling and training. If that officer was later found to be profiling again, the bill would have mandated he or she be suspended "for not less than six months" and be required to go through more counseling and training.

Also, officers would have been prohibited during traffic stops from conducting "roadside investigations" for crimes other than the traffic violation, unless they suspected that another crime had been committed based upon a "preponderance of the evidence" — a higher standard than "reasonable suspicion."

The latest version of the bill simply requires law enforcement agencies to include race and ethnicity of drivers — among many other details from stops — for the purposes of identifying whether profiling has taken place.

Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, told the Tribune earlier this year that his organization would oppose changing police search procedures. Chris Jones with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas told the committee Tuesday that his organization is against the bill as it now stands, mostly because it would prohibit arrests for fine-only offenses.

Coleman, who has met with law enforcement organizations about their objections, said Tuesday that more work has to be done on the bill. 

Read more about the Sandra Bland case:

  • Here is a list of the several changes the Sandra Bland Act would make to how Texas law enforcement officials and jailers interact with those they stop or detain
  • The House County Affairs Committee late last year laid the foundation for the Sandra Bland Act

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