Police oversight bill passes TN House, but Senate could take a different path

State-Capitol

A bill banning subpoena power from community oversight boards (COB) created to investigate potential police misconduct Tennessee House today, but the path might be different when the measure gets to the Senate.

The subpoena ban was by far the most contentious part of the measure which House sponsor Michael Curcio says is to offer “guidelines” or “standards” for any local government entity that would establish the boards. 

Lawmaker and former judge Rep. Mike Carter said subpoena power should remain with grand juries.

“What do we say to the grand jury when we create a community board that has the same apparent authority that they have,” Rep. Carter asked his fellow lawmakers during the House debate.

The bill came about after Nashville voters approved last fall a community oversight board for police that included subpoena power.

House Democrats say the bill diminishes the Nashville vote with the state overreaching into local matters.

“It sends a signal that we are not a government of, for and by the people, but a government of, for and by the state,” said Rep. Harold Love of Nashville.

A Democrat from Knoxville, where the city has a police oversight board, argued why subpoena power is important, even if it’s not used.

“It’s there, and you can say, ‘we can issue a subpoena if you won’t show,’ and they showed up,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson  

With the Senate having a different version of the COB bill, those discrepancies will have to be ironed out for the measure to become law. 

The Senate version of the guidelines for community oversight boards has limited subpoena powers.

That bill is currently in committee. 

House sponsor Rep. Curcio said he expects the measure to end up in a conference committee to iron out differences if the Senate passes its alternate version. 

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